The Texas Rangers are one of those franchises I just can't picture winning a World Series. I just can't. I can imagine the Devil Rays sneaking in. And I bet the Washington Nationals will some day put a good team on the field. But the image of a victory parade through storied Arlington is not something I can envision.
They are a strange franchise. They've been in Texas my whole life (they moved there in 1972.) They've had an amazing number of great characters as manager. Ted Williams, Whitey Herzog, Billy Martin, Don Zimmer, Bobby Valentine, Kevin Kennedy, Johnny Oates and Buck Showalter. They've had 5 MVPs. A future President owned the team.
And yet what are the most memorable moments in Rangers history?
The Nolan Ryan no hitters...
The Kenny Rogers perfect game...
David Clyde starting that game as a teenager....
Oh yeah! That moment when a ball hit Jose Canseco on the head.
And the history of the Rangers, not to mention the path of the Yankees and all of major league baseball, could have been changed if the Rangers had a better bullpen in 1996.
Bear with me.
Joe Torre's first taste of post season managing with the Yankees wasn't pretty.
The Yankees played the Rangers in the first round of the 1996 playoffs and as difficult as it is got us to remember now, but the Yankees had a mild playoff drought of their own. They went from 1981 to 1995 without playing into October. And the previous year they were stunned in extra innings by the Mariners and eliminated.
Showalter was let go and Torre brought in. The team won the division but promptly lost game 1 on a complete game effort by John Burkett.
Suddenly the waves of panic came to Yankee land. They were poised to have another first round defeat and in all likely hood, Torre would be fired and it would be the Bronx Zoo all over again.
The Rangers took a 4-1 lead on two homers by Juan Gonzalez (who would go on to hit 5 in the series) and it felt like the Yankees were on their way to a humiliating sweep.
But guess what? Unlike game 1, they had to go to the bullpen... and the Rangers pen was awful. How bad? Their closer Mike Henneman had a 5.79 ERA. When you closer is letting up nearly 6 runs every 9 innings... that's a problem.
The Yankees tied the game in the 8th on a Cecil Fielder single. Yankee relievers Mariano Rivera and John Wetteland combined for 4 2/3 shutout innings, with Wetteland getting out of a bases loaded jam in the 9th. Torre used 4 pitchers to get out of another bases loaded jam in the 12th and the Yankees won it in the 12th on a single, walk and error. The chance of a 2-0 lead squashed by the bullpen.
It didn't seem to matter in game 3 as the Rangers seemed poised to take a 2-1 series lead when Darren Oliver took a 2-1 lead into the 9th. Again, not trusting his bullpen, manager Johnny Oates gave Oliver the chance to complete the game like Burkett did in game 1... even though he had only 1 complete game all year.
The tired Oliver let up back to back singles to start the innings and they both scored on Henneman, giving the Yankees the win and a 2-1 lead in the series.
The Rangers broke out to a 4-0 in game 4, but the Yankee bats drove Bobby Witt off the mound in the 4th and the bullpen lost the game in the 7th.
The Yankees went on to beat the Orioles and Braves to win the 1996 World Series, starting the greatest dynasty of the Free Agent era.... 4 Titles, 6 pennants 11 straight playoff appearances under Torre including 10 division titles.
The Rangers faded... appearing in 2 more playoff series, both against the Yankees, and getting swept both times. In fact the powerful bats were held to a total of 2 runs... not per game... in BOTH SERIES COMBINED!
Then the 2000s led to Pudge Rodriguez leaving, the failed A-Rod experiment and a merry go round of managers and starting pitchers and very few meaningful games.
Imagine how things would have been different if that Rangers team had a bullpen.
The Rangers might have advanced to the ALCS... and maybe to the World Series.
They would have had a defining moment and perhaps built upon that to be a genuine powerhouse, not only in the West but also in the AL.
And a first round loss probably would have spelled doom for Joe Torre after his first year. George was still in a spit fire mood instead of the mellowed possibly sick man he is today.
Torre would have been gone and George might have tried to bring back Showalter... or Pinella... or waited a hear and snap up Davey Johnson when the Orioles dumped him.
No harmony in the Bronx... no great run.
For Yankee haters it would have been heaven...
If only the Rangers had a bullpen!