Rangers started something special

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The knee-jerk reaction, the one in which most of us will wallow for the next fews days, at least, is that something precious, even sacred, ended Monday night at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

The Rangers' oft-stated goal was to win the World Series, not lose it in five games and especially not by bowing out so pitifully in the last two in front of the home crowd.

Naturally, we will join the talk shows and the pundits in overanalyzing what went wrong, wondering why Rangers bats suddenly went so silent and how Cliff Lee could lose a mano-a-mano duel with aging Edgar Renteria, who already had his moment in the World Series spotlight years ago with the Florida Marlins.

There will be angst and debate in the wake of the San Francisco Giants' 3-1 victory in Game 5 behind Renteria's seventh-inning three-run homer and Tim Lincecum's outstanding pitching, and that's all well and good. It's part of the process.

But when the pain and disappointment has subsided, here's what should be absolutely understood:

This wasn't an ending for the Texas Rangers; instead, it is a beginning.

How many myths did the Rangers destroy in marching to their first American League pennant and World Series? How many doors did they kick in? How many new fans did they make with their dogged perseverance? How much more credibility on a national scale has this franchise gained, not only with its remarkable run in wiping out the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees, but with new ownership tandem Nolan Ryan and Chuck Greenberg now in place?

"Right now, this stings, obviously," third baseman Michael Young said. "To come so close to a world championship and fall short is a bitter pill to swallow. But we've established a different standard of expectations around here. We've built a great foundation. Now we know how good we can be and where we want to be."

Right back in another World Series as soon as humanly possible.

"I've heard players say that [playing in] the postseason is addicting," Young added. "Now I know what they mean."

This is a franchise and a team poised on the brink of establishing itself as a favored pennant contender for years to come. What happened Monday night doesn't change that one iota.

As the Giants popped champagne and whooped and hollered in the obligatory post-Series celebration a few doors away, the Rangers players were standing, one by one, in their own quiet clubhouse, to somehow try and convey to their teammates what this season and this experience has meant to them.

"Guys shared their feelings on how much they loved this team," said Young, standing in front of his locker where three empty bottles of champagne, keepsakes from the Rangers' own ALDS and ALCS championship celebrations, stood as a mute reminder of what might have been. "Everybody who talked spoke about winning it all next year."

Young had just made a circle of the room, locker by locker, exchanging hugs with his teammates. This is a season none of them will ever forget.

"In years to come, we'll have great memories of this team," Young said. "Maybe by Thanksgiving I can start thinking about them. But not yet."

Losing to the Giants was bitterly disappointing to the Rangers and their fans, but it's not a tragedy, not when the future is so bright.

The World Series was an educational experience for these young Rangers, a hands-on classroom in which they learned more about themselves and about how to perform under pressure.

"People are going to be expecting these type of seasons for years to come, and that's OK," outfielder David Murphy said. "We'll use this terrible feeling we have in our stomachs right now as motivation."

The Rangers learned so much about themselves this season, and the postseason experience will prove to be invaluable.

"These guys learned how to handle adversity," general manager Jon Daniels said. "How would they handle a tight pennant race? How would they handle two losses to Tampa Bay and having to go to their place to stay alive?

"How would they handle a tough Game 1 loss to the Yankees? We learned how resilient they can be."

It was overcoming that adversity, from manager Ron Washington's spring training cocaine confession, to the failure of the team's top two starting pitchers (Rich Harden and Scott Feldman) when the season began, to devastating injuries, that bound this team together and made it special.

"This is, by far, the most mentally tough group I've ever been a part of," Young said. "That's what made it so much fun. We fought through so much.

"This sucks right now. It stings. It's great to get here but to lose ... it hurts."

Even though the San Francisco pitching simply dominated the Rangers -- they scored just five runs total in their four losses and only Nelson Cruz's solo homer in the seventh Monday night averted a third shutout -- Young was reluctant to give Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, et al, too much credit.

"They threw great," Young said, "but we have a great offense and we feel we should score runs no matter what."

Cruz was a bit more realistic and practical when asked if he thought the Rangers had the better team despite losing the Series in five games.

"They had better pitching," Cruz said. "It's not who's better, it's who plays the better game.

"We have to turn the page now. This experience will help us learn."

The Rangers learned that no matter how good they think their bullpen might be, the postseason takes everything to another level. Relievers, more than anyone, wear down over the course of a long season. The Rangers desperately needed another reliable power arm in the eighth inning throughout the postseason.

"We know you have to reinvent the bullpen every year," Daniels said.

How the rotation sets up next season will depend greatly on whether they can coax free-agent Lee to re-sign. He made only one real mistake Monday night, but Renteria hit it into the left-field seats and the Rangers' dying offense left him with no room for error.

Tough decisions must be made this winter. If Lee doesn't come back, who do the Rangers go after instead? What about Vladimir Guerrero, who had such a magnificent comeback season only to look old and tired in the postseason? Catching remains an issue that must be addressed, too.

But those are practical matters that Ryan and Daniels and his staff will wrestle with as winter settles in on them.

The Rangers have come so far since spring training. More miles than we could have ever imagined.

But they haven't reached the end of this incredible journey. Monday night wasn't an end to anything. Instead, it's the start of something big.

Jim Reeves, a former columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is a regular contributor to ESPNDallas.com.