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Series losses will haunt Rangers until they win one of their own

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ST. LOUIS -- Call the Rangers two-time losers if you want.

Or are they just champions who haven't won a trophy yet?

They'll remember these losses for the rest of their lives ... but it only stings forever if they never get back and win it all.

The World Series is the end of the season, but for the Rangers, it can't be the end of the story. After two years of coming close -- and these last two nights of utter disappointment -- they have no choice now but to get back here and make it right.

They have no choice but to keep winning, to prove that these two years are the start of something big, and not just a blip or another stain on a franchise that still hasn't won it all.

"That's our challenge," general manager Jon Daniels agreed, in a hallway outside the clubhouse in the quietest corner of a noisy Busch Stadium.

That's their challenge. They lost the World Series again. They came closer to winning than any World Series loser ever, but they lost.

They came so close that they could feel it.

"I could almost visualize the trophy," David Murphy said, thinking back to the ninth and 10th innings of Game 6.

But there is no trophy.

They can tell themselves they're champions, as manager Ron Washington told them after the 6-2 Game 7 loss to the Cardinals. They can say that they're "a championship-caliber team," as team spokesman Michael Young said late Friday night.

But we live in a world that measures champions not by how they feel, but by the trophies that they actually win.

The Rangers' trophy cabinet is bare, for a 51st straight year.

And the Rangers' legacy?

That's their challenge.

They can be the Braves, who lost World Series in 1991 and '92, at the beginning of a run of a 14 straight division crowns. They lost in seven games in '91, losing to Jack Morris in one of the most memorable World Series games ever.

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They also won the World Series in 1995.

Two decades on, nobody talks about the back-to-back losses.

The Rangers could be those Braves. There's every reason to think they'll get back to the World Series in the years to come.

"We're a good team," Young said. "That's one thing we talked about. We just know we're a championship-caliber team. We've got good players. Good players win games."

These good players just lost the biggest games of the year -- again.

They lost because the bullpen that carried them past the Rays and the Tigers broke down against the Cardinals. They lost because, just like last year, they ran into a team that got on a roll and forgot how to lose.

They lost because when they wiped off some of the pain of Thursday night by scoring two runs in the first inning Friday, starter Matt Harrison went out and quickly gave those two runs right back.

But mostly, they lost because when they had this World Series just about won, when they were one strike away -- twice -- and were visualizing that trophy, they couldn't close the deal.

"We had the game in hand," Young said. "We had good pitchers on the mound. It didn't work out."

They'll remember that feeling, the feeling of almost winning it all and the feeling of having it so quickly snatched away.

They'll remember the two-out two-strike fly ball that Nelson Cruz might have caught for the last out Thursday night, had he only gotten back to the right-field wall quickly enough. They'll remember it that way, but here in St. Louis it will be remembered as the two-run triple that started David Freese on the way to his World Series MVP trophy.

They'll remember Josh Hamilton's home run in the 10th, and a bottom of the 10th where left-hander Darren Oliver was facing two weak left-handed hitters and then a pitcher, and couldn't get it done.

They'll remember the pain.

"Originally, I didn't think this would feel as difficult [as last year], because we played great," Murphy said. "But right now, it feels worse.

"It was a great Series. But we were so close ... and it hurts."

When they lost a year ago, the Rangers set their sights on coming right back and winning it all this year. They became the first World Series loser since those '91 Braves to make a return visit the next October.

They said Friday night that they'll be just as motivated next spring, just as much a team on a mission as they were this year.

In all of World Series history, only one back-to-back loser made it back and won the World Series the very next year. It was a long time ago, too, so long that those 1923 Yankees played in a brand-new Yankee Stadium.

It was the first World Series the Yankees ever won.

Yeah, the winningest franchise in history lost two in a row before winning its first.

Does anyone remember that?

The point is that the Rangers can write their legacy in the years to come. Win a few more division titles, make it back to the World Series and eventually win one, and these two straight Octobers of disappointment will be seen as the start of something big, and not as a stain, not as a curse.

"Most of the club is going to be back," Daniels said. "A lot of these guys are in their prime, and the [minor-league] pipeline's full. We've got a running start, so to speak.

"In our mindset, it was never a one- or two-year window. You can't predict the future, but I know we'll do our best to get back."

You can't predict the future. They can see the past, and especially the past two days.

They can see that trophy that was almost theirs. They can't forget seeing the Cardinals take it away.

"You don't get all the way to the World Series to see the other team celebrate," Murphy said. "And this year, to Game 7. You don't get there to see the other team celebrate."

The Rangers have seen it. They've seen it two straight years.

Two years they'll never forget.

And two more years without a trophy.

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