Pennant vanquishes Rangers' ghosts

ARLINGTON, Texas -- One by one, the ghosts paraded by to pay their respects Friday night at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. When there are 38 years of skeletons rattling around in the closet, that can take a while.

Like wisps in the wind, all the old memories came flooding in, then faded away, vanquished perhaps forever: the 100-loss seasons those first two years in Texas; the David Clyde debacle; the four managers in one week; the Roger Moret catatonic trance; the armed guards on an off day at Arlington Stadium; the A-Rod promise that never materialized; even the bankruptcy that happened only yesterday.

They no longer matter. The Texas Rangers, finishing off the New York Yankees with a 6-1 KO punch in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, are going to the World Series.

It's going to take a while to sink in, Rangers fans. I know how you feel. If you're like me, you'll wake up in a daze Saturday morning, wondering if it all was just a wonderful dream.

Guess what? It is a dream, and it has finally come true. There will never be another morning in your life quite like Saturday morning.

Let's all say it again, together this time, just because we've never had a chance to say it before, to feel the words in our mouths, to savor their taste, to fully comprehend their meaning:

The Rangers are going to the World Series!

The Rangers are going to the World Series!

The Rangers are going to the World Series!

Are you bleeping kidding me?


All they have to do now is leap into the air, click their heels and they'll be in San Francisco … or Philadelphia. Does anybody even give a rat's patootie at this point?

This wasn't just about the new Nolan Ryan-Chuck Greenberg Rangers, a different kind of Rangers team than any we've ever seen before; this was also about all those Rangers teams from the past, the ones who sometimes teased us, tantalized us and almost always disappointed us.

"This was for all of them," said Michael Young, who has been dreaming of this moment since he was 4 years old. "This was for the Rangers fans who were there from the beginning, all the players from the past, everyone who ever did anything for this franchise.

"I knew it would come; it was only a matter of when."

"When" came at 10:09 p.m. CDT, when Alex Rodriguez -- how fitting is that? -- stood helplessly and watched Neftali Feliz's first breaking ball of the night snap over the middle of the plate for strike three. He'd thrown 13 straight fastballs in disposing of Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano and putting A-Rod two strikes down.

Then he made him look like a fool with a perfectly placed curveball.

As umpire Brian Gorman signaled strike three, bedlam descended on Rangers Ballpark. Electric with anticipation since Texas had exploded for four runs in the fifth to snap a 1-1 tie, the stadium exploded with a joyous outburst of sound as the Rangers players dogpiled between the pitcher's mound and third base.

Thirty-eight years of heartache and frustration vanished in a rain of red, white and blue confetti and the glare of rockets exploding overhead.

For Ryan, the sense of satisfaction of seeing this team finish what it had started in spring training was overwhelming. He is going to his second World Series, the first in 41 years.

"That," Ryan said, "seems like another lifetime ago."

It is almost incomprehensible that this Rangers team is World Series-bound. This is the team that began its season with its manager under fire after he confessed to using cocaine. It is here despite the fact that its top two starting pitchers -- Rich Harden and Scott Feldman -- aren't even on the roster any more. It lost its closer in April.

Yet it rallied around Ron Washington and kept finding other pieces to replace those that fell by the wayside.

"This team doesn't know how to fail," said Josh Hamilton, who was named ALCS MVP.

"We don't take 'no' for an answer," Young echoed. "Our goal now is to win the World Series."

There will be only one team left to argue with them. Either the San Francisco Giants or the Philadelphia Phillies will have to figure out a way to deal with Cliff Lee, Colby Lewis and C.J. Wilson, no easy proposition. They'll have to face Hamilton and Vlad Guerrero, Young and Nelson Cruz. They'll have to beat a Rangers team that is playing the best baseball in franchise history.

So as the Rangers put the final touches on their most important victory ever, in front of 51,404 howling fans at the Ballpark, one by one the parade of ghosts began.

Ted Williams and Nellie Fox, Billy Martin and Johnny Oates, all our heroes of seasons past, were sitting on the edge of their favorite cloud in Baseball Heaven, watching their Rangers dance into their first October classic.

OK, maybe it's just wishful thinking about Martin, but you know he was watching from somewhere and if his seat was a little hotter than the rest, I'd still bet he wasn't letting anyone see him sweat. Martin, in fact, was playing with house money; either his Yankees would win or his Rangers would win.

Danny Thompson was there, of course. Nellie Briles, too. Bob Short and Eddie Chiles snuggled into the owners' box next to Greenberg and Ryan. But it wasn't just long-gone owners, managers, coaches and players who dropped by to pay their respects. Somewhere, sitting elbow to elbow, raising their glasses and their voices in celebration, were longtime franchise fixtures Burt Hawkins, John Welaj and Judy Johns.

Dick Risenhoover was once again in the radio booth, leaning over Eric Nadel's shoulder, and Mark Holtz stepped in to cap it all with a booming "Hello, win column!"

This time, though, it was even sweeter. This time he could smile that trademark smile that earned a spot in so many hearts and add "Hello, World Series!"

Years ago, at old Arlington Stadium, I danced on the press box ledge during a postgame Beach Boys concert, just for the sheer joy of it.

There's no ledge at Rangers Ballpark, and the windows won't open either.

But you better believe I'm dancing again … right along with the rest of you.

Jim Reeves, a former columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is a regular contributor to ESPNDallas.com.