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Could’ve Been, Should’ve Been: The Story of the 2012 Texas Rangers, Part One

This article is the first in a three-part series chronicling the consequential 2012 Texas Rangers season. Keep an eye out for parts two and three each of the last two Monday’s in May.

“What a team, what a ride, the Cardinals are World Champions!”

As Texas’ David Murphy flew out to St. Louis left fielder Allen Craig to end a 6-2 loss in Game 7 of the 2011 World Series, Joe Buck’s call on FOX soon became what would haunt Texas Rangers fans for the entirety of the 2011-12 offseason.

Texas had just lost its second consecutive Fall Classic, and unlike the uncompetitive 4-1 series loss to San Francisco the year prior, the Rangers commanded the series- and were even one strike away twice from extinguishing the St. Louis voodoo magic machine.

Alas, David Freese’s heroics in Game 6 and Rangers ace C.J. Wilson’s lack of command in Game 7 left the flailing franchise still searching for that elusive first taste of October glory. Yes, Texas had lost in one of the most heartbreaking ways possible, creating a bevy of lasting memories for basically everyone except Ranger fans.

Even so, there were still positives. Texas had finally emerged as a legitimate contender for the first time since the late 1990’s, with a decade of failure and hollow stats from Alex Rodriguez in between. 2009 saw the team contend for the American League Wild Card into late August, only to come up just short. 2010 was the team’s first division title since 1999, and 2011 set a new high watermark for wins in a regular season, despite how it ended.

Texas had improved each of the past three seasons going into 2012. There was no way to do so again other than winning the whole thing.

This set up a season of extremely lofty expectations for the team, and the front office responded. Buoyed by plenty of praise from baseball pundits regarding the team’s potential for a third straight American League crown, General Manager Jon Daniels and Team President Nolan Ryan doubled down on their approach and made concerted efforts to shore up a baseball heavyweight.

It started with a vote of confidence to the coaching staff- one of the team’s earliest offseason moves was retaining every component of manager Ron Washington’s staff. Soon after, the team gambled on a decision aimed at continuing one of the team’s biggest strengths- the back of the bullpen.

Texas signed Joe Nathan, the Minnesota Twins’ all-time leader in saves, to assume the closer role for 2012. In a bold move, the Rangers would be moving 2010 AL Rookie of the Year and All-Star Neftali Feliz to the starting rotation. The club had seen success with a similar move in the past, converting inconsistent closer CJ Wilson to a front-line starter in just three seasons.

After Wilson left for division rival Los Angeles to further his racing career, with a little baseball on the side, the Rangers’ next offseason priority would be replacing the 2011 All-Star.

Enter Yu Darvish.

If fans had any doubts about the front office’s willingness to buy into the 2012 team’s potential, they were quickly answered by Ryan and Ray C. Davis’ decision to outbid the New York Yankees by posting $51.7 million for the rights to negotiate with the high-profile righty from Japan.

It came down to the last hour, but a mere 15 minutes ahead of the negotiating deadline, Texas had its future ace on a 6-year, $60 million contract.

Darvish was a shot in the arm to a bleeding rotation and a clear vote of confidence on display for an uneasy fanbase. He was instantly popular with the fans in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and along with the return of team stars Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Mike Napoli, Ian Kinsler and Michael Young, vaulted Texas to the forefront of national attention.

There was no hesitance for the heavy favorites out of the gate, either. Charged by an Opening Day win, Texas raced out to a 12-2 start including an eight-game winning streak in April. Josh Hamilton was playing like an MVP again. The Rangers were respected as a national force with a lineup to be feared.

Then came the game.

In a nondescript weeknight road contest at Baltimore, one of the league’s worst teams that year, 11,000 people showed up to witness what surely they anticipated would be a bludgeoning. Texas won 14-3 the night earlier, and with a forced hand thanks to an especially young and injured rotation, the Orioles trotted out Plano East and TCU alum Jake Arrieta, who was far from becoming his 2015 Cy Young Award-winning self at the time.

Little did those fans know they’d witness baseball history on that strange night. Hamilton ripped off homers in his first two at bats, followed by a double. That was the only time that evening Baltimore would be able to relatively slow him down on the way to a four-homer night.

Hamilton smacked two more out of the park and received a standing ovation from the paltry crowd. Texas would go on to win 10-3 for win No. 20 of the campaign. He set the American League record for total bases in that game and became the first player since Toronto’s Carlos Delgado did the same. It wouldn’t be replicated until Cincinnati’s Scooter Gennett did so in a game a whole five years later.

In a roller coaster career, Hamilton’s elite ability was never more on display than this night. It was truly the peak of his baseball career, which, unforeseen by followers of the 2012 team, would have an abrupt and uncomfortable ending.

Texas rode the coattails of Hamilton’s performance all the way to a 6.5-game cushion in late May. However, a string of injuries paired with a bizarre 21-8 home loss to lowly Seattle in a span that saw the team drop five of six prompted the front office to explore external pitching options.

Enter Roy Oswalt.

Many forget the brief foray Oswalt had with Texas in 2012. Already a Texas legend from his time as the ace of rival Houston from 2001-10, after struggling with Philadelphia in 2011, he failed to command his desired market value.

Texas signed the wily veteran to a one-year deal May 29. After tune-up starts at Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock, Oswalt made his debut June 20 against Colorado. He pitched a quality start in a win, receiving a standing ovation from the Ballpark in Arlington crowd.

Oswalt’s veteran presence was a stabilizing force throughout June, as the team took advantage of a lowly slate of Interleague opponents on the way to 20-win month.

Entering the All-Star break, despite a propensity to be a tad bit streaky, 2012 had gone as planned in Texas brass, with the team firmly grasping a four-game lead in the division with a 52-34 record.

This article is the first in a three-part series chronicling the consequential 2012 Texas Rangers season. Keep an eye out for parts two and three each of the last two Monday’s in May.

Staff Writer covering the Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars for Dallas Sports Fanatic. Sports journalism grad from the University of Missouri. Christ follower, Dallas sports fan living in Houston.

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