As the amazing Orioles move on, we can't stop thinking about the team that lost

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider
The Rangers had the best record in the AL more than a week ago. Now their season is over. (Getty Images)

ARLINGTON, Texas -- By now, we expect this from the Orioles.

Or we should.

We don't expect it from the Rangers. We can't.

We should be talking about the shocking team that won the American League's first-ever wild-card game.

But we can't stop thinking about the team that lost.

Sorry, Orioles, because you deserve more attention than this. Sorry, Joe Saunders and Adam Jones and Nate McLouth and the rest of you. We'll make it up to you in the days that come, because you'll still be around.

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The Rangers won't. Josh Hamilton won't.

And that's absolutely stunning. This is the 2011 Red Sox, except it happened much faster.

Ten days ago, the Rangers had the best record in the American League. Today, their season is over.

Not long ago, Hamilton was the baseball's best player, and we asked how the Rangers could let him leave.

Now, he's the living symbol of the collapse, with all the booing that comes with it, and we can't imagine why they would bring him back.

"I'd have liked to have hit 25 home runs in 25 at-bats and get cheers," Hamilton said. "That's baseball, man."

Instead, he had no home runs and almost no hits in 43 at-bats, as the Rangers went 2-8 to first lose the division and then lose 5-1 to the Orioles in a wild-card game they never should have had to play.

Instead, the lasting image of what are likely Hamilton's final days in a Ranger uniform are the fly ball he dropped on Wednesday in Oakland, and the four feeble at-bats he had Friday night against the Orioles.

It wasn't just Hamilton, and it's easy to think now that he won't be the only casualty of this collapse. Rangers people were suggesting Friday afternoon that manager Ron Washington is safe, but as we saw last year with the Red Sox, collapses like this can lead to unexpected shakeups.

Even before Friday, some Rangers people were describing club president Nolan Ryan's mood as "ornery." In the wake of Friday's loss, there were grumbles about Washington's reluctance to play 19-year-old super-prospect Jurickson Profar.

"[Bryce] Harper played, [Mike] Trout played, [Manny] Machado played," one Rangers person said. "Our guy is better than Machado."

The Orioles played the 20-year-old Machado at third base, one of a series of bold moves made by general manager Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter. We looked on with amazement all year, and we looked on with amazement again on Friday night.

Only the Orioles could start Saunders, who was 0-6 with a 9.38 ERA at Rangers Ballpark, and have it work out. Saunders scared Showalter into warming up a reliever two batters into the game, but he eventually handed the O's strong bullpen a 2-1 lead in the sixth inning.

"I was due," Saunders said with a laugh, as he ducked out of an Orioles clubhouse that was absolutely drenched in champagne.

The Orioles felt like they deserved this celebration, and they feel like their fans deserve the playoff home game they'll get Sunday night, when the Division Series begins with the Yankees in town.

"We have a home game for our fans," Duquette said. "That's when you know you're in the playoffs."

The celebration Friday was for this unlikely group of players. They had waited on the field at Camden Yards last Sunday, hoping that the Rangers would close out a win over the Angels that would have clinched a playoff spot for the O's.

Instead, Torii Hunter doubled home two runs off Joe Nathan, costing the Rangers a win that could have kept them out of this wild-card game, and forcing the Orioles to walk back into their clubhouse, sans champagne. When the Rangers beat the Angels later that night, the Orioles found out on their plane, after an emergency stop in Jacksonville.

"We got cheated out of popping champagne," Saunders said. "That was my goal, to give us a chance to do it [Friday]."

The Rangers remember those champagne celebrations. They had plenty on the way to two straight World Series, neither of which they won.

There's no reason to declare their run over now, even if there's every reason to believe that Hamilton's five-year run here ended with Friday's loss and Friday's boos.

The Rangers have all winter to figure that out, all winter to figure out how to fit Profar into the 2013 lineup (one Rangers official guaranteed me that he'll be in there somewhere).

The Orioles will go on, on to another series that they're not supposed to win.

They'll have a chance to shock us again. We'll have a chance to give them the attention they deserved Friday.

"That was fun," McLouth said, and there's no doubt that it was. For the Orioles, this entire season has been fun.

Not for the Rangers, though.

"I don't know the right way to describe it," David Murphy said. "At some point, we just ran out of gas. We stopped playing like the Rangers."

They'll have the rest of the winter to ask why.

We'll be talking about the Orioles. They deserve it.

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