By Ronald Blum, The Associated Press
Tell the truth: How many people picked Arizona and Texas to meet in the World Series?
A Rangers-Diamondbacks matchup had 1,750 to 1 odds when wagering opened last fall.
But in an era when 12 teams make the playoffs, sustained excellence over the six-month regular season has become a boarding pass, not the journey, leading to a Longshot Series that opens Friday night at Globe Life Field.
“Once you get into the big dance, anything can happen,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said before Tuesday night’s 4-2 win at Philadelphia advanced Arizona to its first World Series since 2001. “Throw it all out the window. The teams that get in deserve to be in.”
All the glamour teams are watching at home: the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves stumbled in the Division Series, defending champion Houston was ousted by Texas, and the New York Yankees didn’t even make it to the postseason.
Instead, Major League Baseball has its third all-wild card meeting, a Grand Canyon vs. Lone Star finale of second-place teams played in air-conditioned ballparks under retractable roofs — potentially the first all-indoor Fall Classic.
“I thought it would take a little more time,” Diamondbacks rookie outfielder Corbin Carroll said. “So to be able to do it in this first year just makes it all the more special.”
Both prior all-wild card matchups went seven games. The Los Angeles Angels beat the San Francisco Giants in 2002, and Bruce Bochy’s Giants defeated the Kansas City Royals in 2014 for their third title in five years.
Texas and the Diamondbacks are both two years removed from last-place finishes and 100-loss seasons. Arizona is a No. 6 seed and Texas a No. 5.
“Sometimes, one of the last hurdles to get over is that winning feeling, attitude, when you’ve been losing for a few seasons,” Bochy said.
Bochy, 68 and in his 26th year as a big league manager, joined the Rangers last October. He is going for his fourth title, which would tie Walter Alston and Joe Torre for fourth-most behind Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel (seven each) and Connie Mack (five). All prior managers with three or more are in the Hall of Fame.
“I don’t think about me. I’m riding their backs, trust me,” Bochy said. “It’s unreal that I’m here, to be honest. Sitting at the house for three years, and think here I am going to a World Series. Yeah, that’s special. But it’s more about them and trying to find a way to get a ring for those guys.”
Texas started play as the expansion Washington Senators from 1961-71 and has played 10,028 games without a title (9,964 regular-season games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, plus 64 in the postseason). That’s the second-longest drought behind Cleveland, which last won in 1948.
After losing in the World Series in 2010 and ’11, the Rangers are among six teams without a title, joined by Colorado, Milwaukee, San Diego, Seattle and Tampa Bay.
Arizona’s only title came on Luis Gonzalez’s ninth-inning single off Yankees closer Mariano Rivera in Game 7 in 2001.
Texas headed into the playoffs with the sixth-highest payroll at $228 million. Arizona was 20th at $127 million.
Both teams rallied and earned their World Series berths on the road. It was the first time road teams won Games 6 and 7 in both leagues since the LCS expanded to a best-of-seven format in 1985.
Without Jacob deGrom following a season-ending elbow injury, the Rangers acquired Max Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery to join a rotation that included Nathan Eovaldi and Andrew Heaney. Adolis García has seven homers and 20 RBIs in the playoffs, leading an offence also powered by 2020 World Series MVP Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Mitch Garver and Josh Jung.
Arizona’s rotation is led by Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly and Brandon Pfaadt, and its offence sparked by Carroll, Christian Walker, Ketel Marte, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Gabriel Moreno. Lovullo, 58, is in his seventh season as Diamondbacks manager and in the playoffs for the first time since his 2017 team was swept by the Dodgers in the Division Series.
Texas is 8-0 on the road in the postseason but has home-field advantage because it won 90 games to Arizona’s 84 — which could be the second-fewest for a World Series champion in a non-shortened season behind the St. Louis Cardinals’ 83 in 2006. The Diamondbacks split two games at Texas in May and swept a pair at home in August, including an 11-inning win on consecutive doubles by Geraldo Perdomo and Tommy Pham off Will Smith. The Rangers hold a 28-25 edge in regular-season matchups.
There are some common ties. Lovullo’s staff includes bench coach Jeff Banister, the Rangers’ manager from 2015-18.
Scherzer was drafted by the Diamondbacks and spent his first two seasons with Arizona in 2008-09 before he was dealt to Detroit.
Banner image via The Associated Press