The 2011 Texas Rangers calendar year began with the signing of Adrian Beltre, a trade for Mike Napoli and the offseason drama of Michael Young. And all of that was before spring training began in mid-February.
It was another memorable season of baseball in Arlington. The Rangers won a club-record 96 games, captured a second consecutive American League West title, came within a strike of the World Series championship twice and dealt with the tragic passing of Shannon Stone.
Here's a look at the 10 most memorable moments for the Rangers from 2011. There were many stories to choose from and a variety of orders to put them in. But here's one opinion (from 10 to 1):
10. Nolan Ryan becomes CEO. While the Rangers prepared in the spring to defend their AL championship, Ryan, then part owner and club president, flew back to Arlington to announce Chuck Greenberg was out as general managing partner. Disagreements in management style caused the change, and Ryan became CEO. It was a dramatic shift in the ownership structure after Greenberg had organized the investors to finally purchase the club through an auction in bankruptcy court the previous August. The move put the Hall of Famer and fan favorite fully in charge of the club.
9. Josh Hamilton out six weeks on headfirst slide at home. It was the second week of the season, and the Rangers were off to a 9-1 start as they faced Detroit in the second game of a three-game set. Hamilton, the 2010 AL MVP, tagged up from third on a foul popup in the first inning and suffered a hairline fracture of a bone in his upper arm, and missed six weeks. Hamilton was frustrated and at first blamed third-base coach Dave Anderson for suggesting he tag up. But it's the kind of aggressive baserunning play the Rangers stress. Hamilton apologized to his coach, and the play sparked conversation nationally about whether it's smart to slide headfirst into home plate. Texas managed to play steady enough baseball to be in first place by the time Hamilton returned.
8. Michael Young arrives for spring training after offseason drama. The leader of the Rangers' team said a few weeks before spring training that he felt "misled and manipulated on different occasions" and wanted a trade. He stressed it wasn't because the club moved him to DH but didn't discuss the issues in public. The Rangers didn't find a suitable deal for Young, and he showed up for full-squad workouts determined to focus on baseball. He and GM Jon Daniels talked a few times during spring training, and Young got prepared for the season. Then he went out and had one of his best years as a pro. He hit a career-best .338 (third in the AL) and tied for the major league lead with 213 hits. He played 159 games, doing so at third base when Adrian Beltre was injured and at the other infield positions when needed.
7. Rangers clinch second straight AL West title while watching a big screen. It wasn't the way many players would have imagined winning a division title, but the Rangers celebrated a second consecutive AL West championship after watching the A's beat the Angels on Sept. 23 following a Rangers win over the Mariners. A strong stretch drive -- Texas went 19-6 in September -- allowed the Rangers to pull away. Players gathered on the field at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, and the remaining fans cheered when the A's finished off the victory. It was a joyous celebration filled with ginger ale, beer and finally champagne. But many players stressed that it was the first step in what they hoped would be a world championship.
6. Adrian Beltre hits three homers in Game 4 of AL Division Series, pushing Rangers to second round. It was a Reggie Jackson-like moment for Beltre. The Rangers were in Tropicana Field, trying to end the division series to avoid returning to Texas for a winner-take-all Game 5. Beltre made sure the series ended in Florida. He led off the second with a home run off Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson to make it 2-0. Then, with the Rangers up 2-1, Beltre hit an opposite-field solo homer in the fourth to put Texas up 3-1. With the lead down to one run again, Beltre led off the seventh inning with a long ball off Matt Moore. The Rangers held on for the 4-3 win and celebrated a series victory. Beltre became the sixth player to hit three homers in the same postseason game, joining Adam Kennedy (2002 AL Championship Series), George Brett (1978 ALCS), Reggie Jackson (1977 World Series), Bob Robertson (1971 National League Championship Series) and Babe Ruth, who accomplished the feat twice (1926, 1928 World Series).
5. Texas signs Beltre and trades for Mike Napoli in January. Even after the winter meetings ended, the Rangers' front office stayed busy. When the club's quest to land Cliff Lee failed, it turned its attention to improving the lineup and defense by signing Beltre to a five-year contract worth $80 million with a vesting option for a sixth year at $16 million. The move helped the Rangers' infield, putting one of the best defensive third basemen in the game on the hot corner and making the left side of the Texas infield perhaps the best in baseball along with shortstop Elvis Andrus. Beltre was the cleanup hitter for most of the season, adding punch, speed and RBI ability to the middle of the lineup. He was a difference-maker.
The club then traded for Napoli after the Angels sent him to Toronto as part of the Vernon Wells deal. Texas shipped Frank Francisco to the Jays to get Napoli, and made him the part-time first baseman and third catcher. He played well at spring training and was the No. 2 catcher coming out of Surprise, Ariz. He ended up earning more playing time and was perhaps the best hitter in the majors in the second half of the season. He returned from the DL on July 4 (strained oblique) and hit .378 in his final 67 games (.383 after the All-Star break). And he was tremendous in the World Series, including a late-inning double in Game 5 that propelled Texas to a lead in the series. He would have been World Series MVP had the Rangers won.
4. Derek Holland has impressive start in Game 4 of World Series. The Rangers were down 2-1 in the World Series and needed a big start from Holland to have a realistic shot at rallying. And Holland delivered. After receiving a motivational speech from manager Ron Washington that was caught on camera before the game, Holland threw 8 1/3 scoreless innings. He had all his pitches working and heads into next season with lots of confidence. Rangers CEO Nolan Ryan said the day after Holland's performance that it was the biggest game in Holland's career and the biggest game in franchise history. "He stepped up, and it says volumes about where he's come in his maturity," Ryan said. "I still think that there will be growing and developing with Derek."
3. Nelson Cruz hits extra-inning grand slam to win Game 2 of ALCS. It was perhaps the most memorable game of the season. The Rangers were behind 3-2 in the seventh inning as the Tigers tried to tie the ALCS at one game each. But Cruz hit a 1-2 pitch for a home run to tie it. The game ended up going to extra innings, and Cruz came up with the bases loaded and no outs in the 11th. Again on a 1-2 count, Cruz got a slider and belted it to left field. He watched as the ball stayed fair, and 50,000-plus at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington cheered. Cruz ended up as the ALCS MVP with six homers and 13 RBIs, both major league records for a postseason series.
2. Shannon Stone dies at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. On July 7, while the Rangers were in the midst of beating the Oakland A's, Brownwood, Texas, firefighter Shannon Stone fell about 20 feet over a railing in left field as he tried to catch a foul ball tossed to him by Josh Hamilton. Stone's 6-year-old son, Cooper, was attending the game with him. Stone died from injuries sustained in the fall, and the tragedy shocked players, fans and management. The club announced plans to raise railings and enhance safety measures, and will erect a statue in honor of Stone prior to the 2012 season. Hamilton ended up catching Cooper's first pitch before ALDS Game 1 and spoke briefly with Cooper's mother, Jenny. Just two days after the tragedy, Hamilton hit a walk-off home run in an emotional Rangers win over Oakland.
1. Rangers are one strike from world championship twice but lose. Neftali Feliz went to the mound with a two-run lead in the ninth inning of Game 6 and the Rangers moments from clinching the first World Series title in franchise history. The Cardinals were down to their last strike before David Freese, the eventual World Series MVP, hit a long fly to right. Nelson Cruz appeared to have the ball in his sights, but it tailed away and hit the wall, and the Cardinals tied the score. Texas bounced back, though, when a two-run homer by Josh Hamilton in the 10th put the Rangers up by two again. This time Darren Oliver and Scott Feldman couldn't hold it as the Cardinals, down to their last strike for a second time, tied the score again. Freese homered to win the game in the 11th. The Rangers couldn't recover, and the Cardinals won Game 7 to win the title.
Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.