This article is the third in a three-part series chronicling the consequential 2012 Texas Rangers season. Keep an eye out for bonus content next week and look back on parts one and two if you missed it.
Not unlike the one strike the team needed to win the World Series the year prior, a single game was all the 2012 Texas Rangers needed to win out of a three-game road slate with the Oakland A’s to clinch an outright American League West Division Title- which would be the teams’ third straight.
The season had been an up-and-down, cyclical affair for the most part- especially given the fact that the Rangers carried one of Major League Baseball’s heaviest injury burdens that season. Even so, one constant remained- the team was in first place virtually the entire regular season, save the opening three days of the campaign. Their division lead ballooned to a strong six games at three different points throughout the 162-game pantheon, never getting below 1.0 games.
Oakland was playing with house money entering the matchup. After a lousy start, it had firmly supplanted itself as the clear challenger to the Rangers’ stranglehold on the division. Back on June 30, Texas swept the A’s in a three-game set in Arlington to nab win No. 50 on the season. Oakland was just 37-42 after the trio of losses. From that point until the last week of September, the A’s boasted a 53-26 record, compared to the Rangers’ 43-37 clip.
The roster was composed of a swath of rookies- in fact, the Athletics set league records for production from first-year players in the regular season. Reliever Ryan Cook was the team’s lone All-Star representative in Kansas City- a shocking contrast to Texas’ nine reps.
Entering the series at then O.Co Coliseum, a hot stretch of four out of five wins for the A’s drew them within 2.0 games back of the Rangers. Texas was going the opposite direction- losers of four out of six including back-to-back series loses to Oakland and the Los Angeles Angels.
With the magic number at one, the Rangers turned to Rookie Martin Perez for game one of the series. The A’s countered with upstart rookie Jarrod Parker, who had already won 12 games in what wasn’t even a full season.
Perez was strong, but Parker was stronger- and the A’s bullpen held off a Rangers rally for a 4-3 win. It was losses in five out of seven for Texas at this point, and hopeful fans and media pundits alike were starting to sweat for the first time all year. The loss trimmed the Rangers’ lead to a single game in the division.
Still, all could be made right with a win in game two of the series- while Texas and manager Ron Washington considered the added benefit of a day to rest starters for the ALDS in Game 162 if his team were to clinch early.
All-Star Matt Harrison got the ball for the Rangers opposite former Texas farmhand and Comeback Player of the Year candidate Travis Blackley. Blackley was better that night- handcuffing the Ranger bats under two runs for the first time since September 22.
Texas went just 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position, and left four runners on. In total, the Rangers mustered just three hits- and none in the final three innings against the A’s lockdown core of late inning relievers.
Just like that, the lackluster performance set everything back to square one. A six-game lead, gone. Near wire-to-wire leading of the division- gone. 161 games into the season, and still nothing decided. The fate of the AL West and the Rangers’ shot at redemption on a path to what could be a third World Series bid, in jeopardy.
It would all come down to one game.
It’s worth noting that 2012 was the first implementation of the second Wild Card spot in each league- which the loser of Game 162 would play host to against Baltimore. Although fans were excited by the move, managers and teams wanted to avoid any possibility of a one-and-done elimination game.
In a move that made Texas fans ponder the what-if possibilities of the team’s near-acquisition of Milwaukee’s Zack Grienke, the Rangers turned to deadline grab Ryan Dempster in the final game of the regular season.
He was strong early, holding the A’s to a single run through the first three frames in front of a Coliseum crowd resembling the size of a Raiders home game. Outfielder David Murphy settled the nerves of Ranger fans with a two-run single in the top of the 3rd followed by a Geovany Soto RBI single gave the Rangers an early 5-1 advantage.
After that, it was all Oakland.
Dempster gave up three straight hits to start the Oakland fourth. With a couple of runners on, Derek Holland made a rare appearance out of the bullpen, pitching on just two days’ rest. The gamble didn’t pay off. Coco Crisp tied the game with a ringing double.
Then, THAT play happened.
Holland caught a break on a 3-1 fastball left over the heart of the plate. A’s rookie slugger Yoenis Cespedes tipped off a weak fly ball to center field where five-time All-Star Josh Hamilton awaited. It should’ve been an easy end to the disastrous inning.
Hamilton infamously lost the ball in the California sun. The ball smacked to the turf and rolled several feet past him. Years earlier, Hamilton made public how much he lamented day games due to a vision issue. Ahead of 2012, this issue was supposed to be fixed. A regular season stat line boasting 43 homers seemed to prove it was all behind him.
Either way, two runs scored on the E8, and Oakland grabbed a 7-5 lead it would never relinquish. The A’s poured it on to clinch the Division Title with a 12-5 win.
Hamilton’s gaffe was a microcosm of the season. A forgone conclusion lost in the sun. Game 162 was the only day Texas didn’t spend in first place in 2012. It ended the regular season losing seven of its last nine, squandering a four-game division lead in the final week of the season.
However, there was still a slim ray of hope bursting through team’s bleak outlook. Whereas in years past the loss would’ve resulted in outright elimination thanks to the four-team playoff system, the new Wild Card spot gave the Rangers a chance to earn a place in the ALDS.
The Rangers hoped their luck would begin to turn as the MLB shifted to Postseason play. Several factors appeared to stack Texas’ way in the Wild Card Game, even if the team made it clear it didn’t want to play in it.
First, the Rangers drew the upstart Baltimore Orioles, who were making their first playoff appearance since 1997. As back-to-back American League Champions, the Rangers had exponentially more experience than the upstart O’s. The starting pitching matchup was another supposed mismatch.
The Rangers were ready to send Yu Darvish to the mound, who put together a strong 16-9 record with a 3.90 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in his rookie season. Baltimore sent Joe Saunders to the hill, whom it acquired in August from Arizona. He was strong in seven regular season starts for the team, but seen as far from elite talent at the time.
Furthermore, the Rangers were set to host the game at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Compared to a measly 43-38 road record, Texas was dominant at home in 2012, sporting a 50-31 clip.
On the coattails of the controversial St. Louis-Atlanta Wild Card game, national attention shifted to the American League tilt.
Before Darvish could even record an out, Baltimore took the lead on a JJ Hardy RBI single. He was far from the problem, recording a quality start over 6.2 innings. Hamilton would tie the game on an RBI double play, which turned out to be the team’s only run of the night.
Texas simply couldn’t get its stagnant offense going, and Baltimore pulled away with four late runs to build a seemingly insurmountable lead. The Rangers grounded into three double plays on the night, and saw a promising season go up in smoke in a fitting, anti-climactic ending.
After choking in 2011, Texas had one-upped itself. Eight losses in its final ten games sealed the team’s fate. In 2010, the team overachieved, and had made tremendous progress with an AL penant. The next year, it blew two chances in what was probably.
Soon after, Hamilton would join CJ Wilson in Los Angeles via free agency, and the team would be forced to completely rebuild its identity. Just two years later, injuries led Texas to a 67-95 record and a last place finish. Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, Mike Napoli, Joe Nathan and Neftali Feliz were all gone.
2012 was the most consequential season in Rangers franchise history, and, in a year where many thought the team was set to bask in Postseason Glory, instead, fans and players alike will forever look back on it as the year that the franchise could’ve- and maybe should’ve- won that elusive first World Series title its still chasing.
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