Adolis García has Rangers a step closer to erasing World Series ghosts

ARLINGTON, Texas — The new face of baseball is a man who voyaged across the globe for the opportunity to be here, who was twice designated for assignment and nearly cast aside. He is a man who, in the 11th inning of the first game of this year’s World Series, sent a 3-1 pitch screaming into the opposite-field seats and sealed his place in the history of this hallowed sport.

Adolis García entered Friday night’s game at Globe Life Field as the brightest star to emerge from this postseason. He left the game having ascended to a whole new level. Moments after his ball left the park, after his teammates mobbed home plate, after he got the Gatorade shower and endured all the other celebratory rituals in the dugout, García used his jersey to wipe sweat and liquid from his face. He then emerged onto the field once more. Texas Rangers fans cheered louder than they had even when his ball cleared the fence. Like some sort of baptism by applause, he may never again be the same. The Rangers defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game 1 by a score of 6-5 on Garcia’s walk-off home run. Delirium overtook the Rangers.

“The chills are what was crazy,” rookie third baseman Josh Jung said. “It was just blackout moments for everyone. I can only imagine what it was like for (García), all the adrenaline rushing through his body.”

The Rangers chanted García’s nickname — El Bombi, the lightbulb — on their journey back to the clubhouse. The sound pierced the walls, and the reams of trivia soon came flooding in. García is only the 17th player to hit a walk-off home run in the World Series. He is only the fourth player to do so in Game 1. The last player to have accomplished such a feat was Kirk Gibson with his famed 1988 shot into the Los Angeles night. When you are mentioned alongside Kirk Gibson in World Series history, you are doing something right.

For García, Friday night was the latest act in a tremendous arrival on the national stage. He had already asserted himself as a force to be reckoned with, a two-time All-Star who now demands even greater renown.

“He’s such a good player,” first baseman Nathaniel Lowe said. “He’s such a hard worker and a good teammate. He deserves it all. Him having success, the hype that comes with it is for real.”

García’s story is part of the appeal, a man who played in Japan and defected from Cuba, who was dumped by the St. Louis Cardinals and, two years ago, even removed from the 40-man roster of these Rangers he is now carrying into history. Rangers general manager Chris Young joked before Game 1: “We don’t always make good decisions.”

“He was still a developing player,” Young said. “I think the question we had was, ‘Is he consistent enough to be a good major-league player at that point?’ And I think, honestly, where we were as an organization, we had the ability to give him the runway to work through those things. And I think as he got opportunity, we saw a player with extreme aptitude, a player with incredible work ethic — an energy, a passion for excellence and continual improvement. And he’s made himself into the player he is now. And as you get to know the person, it’s no surprise.”

“No surprise” is also how teammates described what García did Friday night in Arlington.

Back in Game 5 of the ALCS it seemed, however briefly, García had hit arguably the biggest home run in franchise history when his sixth-inning blast put the Rangers ahead of the Houston Astros. Texas went on to lose that game in heartbreaking fashion. García found himself at the center of controversy as the benches cleared in the eighth inning. Then he brandished his bat and exacted his revenge via a combined three home runs and nine RBIs in Games 6 and 7.

“I know everything I had to go through and the struggle just to get where I am today, so I’m really grateful for that,” García said after he was named ALCS MVP.

Now García has unseated all his other achievements in this postseason. Again he had been hit by a pitch in Friday’s game, and again he returned to the batter’s box more fearless than ever.

“We’re in the World Series. I think, honestly, (this home run) is the first,” García said, speaking through an interpreter, ranking the latest of his feats.

Adolis García heads for home after his home run to win Game 1. (Jerome Miron / USA Today)

As García alluded to, everything in the World Series comes with a greater context. For the Rangers fans who rejoiced at García’s most recent triumph, the moment was closer to a séance. His walk-off blast came 12 years to the day after David Freese hit an 11th-inning walk-off to propel the Cardinals past the Rangers in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. The Freese homer is a traumatic moment in the memories of those who have cheered for this franchise that has never won a Fall Classic. But García’s home run, as the fates would have it, put him ahead of Freese as the sole record-holder for most RBIs in a single postseason, now at 22. The cosmic irony: The Rangers acquired García from none other than the Cardinals in exchange for cash considerations. The parallels get eerie. In the ninth inning Friday, García took a poor first step on a Corbin Carroll fly ball. But he then raced back to make a key catch at the right-field wall, the same place on the field where Nelson Cruz once broke Rangers fans’ hearts.

For the first time since they came one strike away from winning the whole thing in that 2011 Game 6, the Rangers are back in the World Series. This week has stirred the emotions that had been hidden in shallow graves. The Rangers community is melding together in hopes this could actually be the year. Friday night, Iván Rodríguez threw out the first pitch to George W. Bush, who, in a former life, was once a central figure in team ownership. Luminaries from that 2011 team such as Derek Holland, Adrián Beltré and more were on hand.

“I think we have all the tools to finally accomplish what we want,” Rodríguez said. “For so many years we’ve been very close.”

And with the Rangers now only three victories away from accomplishing something that has never been done in the 63-year history of a franchise that took root in the nation’s capital before finding a home in the Lone Star State, an unlikely hero has arrived. This man who hit 39 home runs in the regular season, who is a Gold Glove finalist, who embodies much of the flair and personality that defines a new generation of players in the pitch-clock era, is now the hottest baseball player on the planet.

“There are no more words to describe it,” Jung said. “We’ve all said them all. Just, wow. He comes up in that situation, get your popcorn ready.”

The only question left: How many more mesmerizing moments does Garcia have left?

“I hope a lot of them,” he said.

(Top photo: Jamie Squire / Getty Images)

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