ARLINGTON, Texas — The ball left the park on a scorching line, more than 110 mph off Corey Seager’s bat. It crashed into the right-field seats 445 feet away, and the crowd at Globe Life Field erupted. The sold-out stadium was witnessing the Texas Rangers’ first playoff appearance since 2016, and by night’s end, it was a full-on celebration.
This is what the Rangers envisioned two offseasons ago, coming off 102 losses. This is what Seager signed up for when he inked a 10-year, $325 million contract. The money was integral, no doubt. But the shortstop with an uncanny ability to swing the bat was also sold on a vision.
“I’m a pretty meticulous guy,” Seager said Tuesday afternoon, hours before the Rangers continued their postseason surge. “So just to hear how thought-out and planned they were, it wasn’t just my (free-agent) year. It was what they saw in the minor leagues, what they saw in future free agents. It was just kind of the whole atmosphere, process.”
There was something else that piqued Seager’s interest, too. He knew the Rangers were intent on getting back to the playoffs. When the Los Angeles Dodgers won the 2020 World Series — when Seager hit .328 with eight home runs in the odd playoff bubble at Globe Life Field — it was L.A.’s first championship since 1988.
The Rangers, of course, are still searching for their first World Series title.
“When I won in L.A.,” Seager said, “it was a long time since they’d won. I saw what that did for a fan base. When I heard (the Rangers) had never won, it was extremely exciting for me to be part of something and to be able to be on the ground floor and build that.”
In a free-agent class filled with star shortstops, the Rangers disrupted the market when they pursued Seager and infield counterpart Marcus Semien. Seager got the colossal 10-year deal. Semien signed for seven years and $175 million. The contracts were finalized on the same day, and the Rangers immediately announced bobblehead nights for their new stars.
Critics, meanwhile, labeled Texas as building a castle on a quicksand foundation. But executive Chris Young, owner Ray Davis and others saw something not everyone else did.
Now, given how the Rangers dismantled the savvy Tampa Bay Rays and young, thrifty Baltimore Orioles, perhaps they are proof there is a new market inefficiency to be exploited: actually trying to win it all.
“They came here at a time at which we’d lost 100 games, and they had no fear of what we were building here,” Young said of Seager and Semien. “Now, after one season, Year 2 for them, to be here and be part of a playoff team, I have a lot of gratitude to those guys for believing in us and wanting to be here.”
In the playoffs, the Rangers have backed up their big checks with destructive bats and a palpable sense of purpose. Unlike the big-money New York Mets and San Diego Padres, they have played a cohesive brand of baseball and supplemented star power with just enough talent from the farm and elsewhere.
Tuesday night in a 7-1 blowout of the Orioles, the Rangers advanced to the American League Championship Series for the first time since 2011. Seager’s first-inning home run set the tone for what became a momentous takedown. The crowd at Globe Life Field was waving red towels and rocking from the first pitch to the final out. Fire up your best baseball cliches: If you build it, they will come.
— Texas Rangers (@Rangers) October 11, 2023
“Right there, it felt like we were gonna run away with it,” first baseman Nathaniel Lowe said.
This postseason, Seager has propelled the Rangers with more than just his power. The dangerous hitter has also tamed his urge to swing away. He walked nine times in this three-game Division Series, breaking Barry Bonds’ Division Series record. He set a postseason record when he drew five walks in Texas’ 11-8 win against the Orioles in Game 2.
In the second inning Tuesday, after Seager had already homered, Baltimore issued him an intentional walk. Mitch Garver responded with a two-run double, then outfielder Adolis García blasted one into the seats.
Nathan Eovaldi twirled another postseason gem, and moments after the game, Seager was front and center in the Rangers’ postgame celebration. Smoke and strobe lights blurred the room.
“Earn the burn!” Seager yelled as teammates sprayed him with champagne.
“It’s not a surprise to me,” Lowe said of Seager’s play. “We paid top dollar for a top-shelf player, and we’re getting a top-shelf performance.”
Semien, Seager’s big-money counterpart, described what we are witnessing best. Seager has a .680 on-base percentage in five postseason games.
“I’m seeing playoff Corey Seager,” Semien said. “Regular (Seager) was an MVP candidate. But seeing the way he’s going about his business in the playoffs versus the regular season, it’s a step above.”
Semien talked of seeing a different bounce in his teammate’s step, a different fire in his eyes.
“That’s what I’ve watched over the years,” Semien said. “As the Dodgers went further and further every year, it was Corey Seager leading that team.”
Now Seager is here leading the Rangers. He acknowledges the playoffs are different. How could they not be?
“Everything’s just heightened, right?” he said. “You’re not trying to do anything different. You’re just more focused. That’s not the right word, but it’s just more intense. Everything matters. It’s just a different game. It really is. There’s no way around it. So you have to have a different edge, different approach.”
The Rangers’ plan was never about winning in some far-off future. It was about winning and winning now.
“They’ve pretty much met everything that they told me,” Seager said.
On a Tuesday night in Texas, Seager danced as a grand vision came one step closer to fulfillment.
(Photo: Jerome Miron / USA Today)