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HomeSportsRangers win World Series, beat Diamondbacks for first title

Rangers win World Series, beat Diamondbacks for first title

PHOENIX — In the end, as in the beginning, the 2023 World Series belonged to Corey Seager.

From his game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 1 to his infield final single up the third-base line in the top of the ninth in Game 5 on Wednesday night, Seager did everything right, everything the Texas Rangers could have asked, and everything they needed.

It was Seager who broke up right-hander Zac Gallen’s no-hitter in the seventh inning of Game 5, and Seager who scored the run that broke the shutout in an eventual 5-0 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks that sealed the Rangers’ first title in franchise history. So it was Seager who was named World Series MVP for the second time, joining Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and Reggie Jackson as the only players to win it twice.

“I don’t think you can ever fathom that,” Seager said.

What is equally difficult to fathom is that the Rangers were here, lifting the World Series trophy after losing 102 games in 2021 and 94 in 2022. They relied on a handful of major acquisitions who contributed to the game’s sixth-largest payroll to hurry past any additional rebuilding years and leap straight into baseball’s upper echelon. Seager, who signed with Texas before the 2022 season, was the keystone of General Manager Chris Young’s plan to piece a champion together instead of waiting for it to grow organically.

“A lot of it was [Young]. Just the way he laid it out, how he laid it out,” Seager said. “He didn’t hide from anything. He didn’t shy away from anything. He knew where they were and he knew where they wanted to go.”

Young and the Rangers knew they wanted to go here, to the pinnacle of their sport. What they could not have known is that journey would take them here, to Chase Field, to a World Series victory, in five games, over the 84-win Diamondbacks in a year in which all October expectations seemed to dissipate into an unexpected reality.

The team they beat was one of the worst teams to advance to the World Series this century, at least by regular season record. But the Rangers beat the always sturdy Tampa Bay Rays, the top-seeded Baltimore Orioles and the defending champion Houston Astros to get here. Plus, until the past 48 hours — even until center fielder Alek Thomas overran a routine Jonah Heim hit and allowed two runs to score in the ninth — Arizona had played like a team deserving of its place here.

But while some teams, such as this year’s Diamondbacks, would be happy to make the World Series in the first place, the Rangers never seemed to share that feeling. Young, their impressive general manager, seemed to carry the weight of his home state on his face all week, visibly tense if verbally stoic. The most frivolous thing about the Rangers was their strange affinity for the music of Christian Rock band Creed, whose hit “Higher” blasted in the clubhouse as they popped corks after Wednesday’s triumph. But otherwise, this team was all business, in part because it was largely a recently compiled collection of professionals who had made names for themselves elsewhere and taught the young players in their midst how to act like they had been here many times before.

“We’ve got guys here who are maybe in the twilight days of their careers. We’ve got guys here who are just starting their careers. We’ve got guys here who were brought here specifically for this purpose,” Rangers first baseman Nate Lowe said. “It’s just a great time to be a Texas Ranger.”

Over the course of two offseasons, Young oversaw a splurge greenlighted by owner Ray Davis. He began with infield anchors Seager and Semien, then watched the Rangers lose 94 games. After that season, Young said, he saw clearly that spending on the top of a roster does nothing if the top of the roster is not paired with depth. So he built out the pitching staff the next year, signing Nathan Eovaldi and Jacob deGrom and even now-injured Jake Odorizzi, then trading for Max Scherzer, Jordan Montgomery and Chris Stratton at the deadline so his team wouldn’t run out of starting pitching as Arizona did before its unsuccessful bullpen game in Game 4.

Young also brought in a high-end coaching staff, pulling some of the more respected coaches around the sport onto one star-studded staff that seemed to accelerate the growth of young players such as Josh Jung but also allow established players to optimize their abilities. Donnie Ecker arrived from San Francisco to help Rangers hitters. Tim Hyers came from Boston to serve alongside him. Well-traveled Mike Maddux, who has coached almost every elite starter of this generation save Clayton Kershaw, joined, too. Then this offseason, Young flew to Nashville to convince one of the more successful playoff managers of the modern era, Bruce Bochy, to oversee it all. Bochy saw what the Rangers had and heard what Young planned to build.

“They did everything they said they were going to do. They went out and got starting pitching, improved the club,” Bochy said after winning his fourth career World Series. “It starts at the top. Those guys were committed. And look, we’re in a good place now.”

Bochy did not have many buttons to push early in Game 5. Eovaldi worked in and out of trouble over and over in the first five innings as the Diamondbacks put runners in scoring position in each of them. But with every run they could not score, more doubt stirred in the desperate Diamondbacks, and Eovaldi finished his night with his first 1-2-3 inning in the sixth. Tasked with keeping his team close while it was getting no-hit in the World Series, he did better: He threw six scoreless innings and ensured that while his team did not score, it did not fall behind, either.

His Rangers were overaggressive against Gallen, who was using their eagerness to his advantage. He inspired early swings and weak contact. Texas didn’t muster its first base runner until the fifth, when Lowe walked with two outs. Not until Seager, the centerpiece of the rebuild, did the Rangers finally break through against Gallen. After Diamondbacks Manager Torey Lovullo spent his afternoon answering questions about why his team would ever pitch to Seager in the first place, Gallen jumped ahead of him with two knuckle curveballs down and in, close enough to the dirt that Seager would normally never bite.

Then, since he was ahead in the count, Gallen seemed to feel compelled to try to get Seager out and not give him anything to hit. He threw him another knuckle curve, the same one he just had trouble handling. Seager simply poked it up the third base line, the kind of real-time adjustment only the greats can make, ending the no-hitter and opening the gates for teammates to follow.

“I don’t know what else to say about the man,” Bochy said. “He’s just incredible.”

Seager finished the World Series hitting .318 in the postseason with a 1.133 OPS overall and three home runs in five World Series games alone. While not known for his defense, the 29-year-old shortstop made every play the Rangers needed, including one up the middle in Game 3 that helped preserve Texas’s 3-1 win.

When it was over, Seager ran straight for Marcus Semien, the other superstar Texas signed to spark the turnaround, and wrapped him in a hug. That pair, which cost Texas more than half a billion dollars, are as close to founding fathers as this current Rangers team has to offer. Semien, who played in all 162 regular season games and set a record for most plate appearances in an MLB season Wednesday night, homered in his final one to cap Texas’s win.

Then Seager took the postgame stage with all his teammates. He left it with his wife’s hand in one hand, the World Series MVP trophy in another. By the end of the evening, the only thing he hadn’t done right all week was his dismount from the dais in the news conference room. As he tried to clear the way for Eovaldi, Seager tripped down the stairs and nearly took the temporary World Series backdrop with him. Try as he might, and no one tries to avoid talking about themselves as doggedly as Seager, he could not cede the October stage entirely. His Rangers went hitless for six innings in Game 5 before he came to the plate. His franchise went 63 seasons without a World Series title before Wednesday night. Neither drought would have ended without him.

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