ARLINGTON, Texas -- Nelson Cruz rocketed a drive deep into the Texas night, and soon it was time for the Rangers to really go wild -- and straight to their first World Series.
The celebration was a half-century in the making.
"The World Series is coming to Texas," said Michael Young, the longest-tenured Ranger in his 10th season. "These fans have waited longer than we have. I know how bad we wanted it, and they must have wanted it more."
Texas clinched its first pennant with a 6-1 victory over the defending World Series champion New York Yankees in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series on Friday night for the biggest victory in the franchise's 50 seasons.
Vladimir Guerrero, going to baseball's biggest stage for the first time in his 15 major league seasons, drove in three runs before scoring on Cruz's homer in the fifth that sent a rollicking crowd of 51,404 into a red frenzy.
When Alex Rodriguez took a called third strike to end the game, fireworks exploded in the sky high above, confetti filled the air and the Rangers embraced each other near the mound.
"Totally worth the wait, totally," Young said.
Having A-Rod standing at the plate for the game-ending out and beating the Yankees made it even more satisfying for fans deep in the heart of Texas.
The Yankees, with their 27 World Series titles and 40 pennants, had knocked Texas out of the playoffs in each of the club's three previous appearances.
And Rodriguez was one of the largest unsecured creditors owed money by the Rangers in a messy bankruptcy case this summer before a group led by Nolan Ryan and Chuck Greenberg bought the team from Tom Hicks in an auction. A-Rod was owned about $25 million in deferred compensation for his three seasons (2001-03) when Texas finished last in the AL West each time.
The Rangers, who had never won a postseason series or a home playoff game before this year, dispatched the $200 million-plus Bronx Bombers with little drama -- especially after that four-run outburst in the fifth snapped a 1-all tie.
"We didn't accomplish what we set out to. And as I told my guys, this hurts," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I've been through it as a player. I've been through it as a coach and now I've been through it as a manager. It's not a lot of fun watching other teams celebrate. They beat us. They outhit us, they outpitched us, outplayed us and they beat us."
Colby Lewis dominated over eight innings for his second win of the series and Josh Hamilton earned the ALCS MVP award. And in a state where most sports fans gear up for fall weekends by watching high school football, the Rangers gave a new meaning to Friday night lights.
Rangers icon Ryan, the Hall of Fame pitcher who is now the team president, embraced his wife in the front row before going onto the field to join the club.
"Our fans have waited a long time, this organization has waited a long time," Ryan said. "This team, coming out of spring training, was on a mission."
Hamilton, who homered four times in the series, admitted that he shed a tear in center field before the final out.
"We are here as a group. This group is here because they don't know how to fail," Hamilton said.
Moments after closer Neftali Feliz struck out Rodriguez looking for the final out, a flag proclaiming Texas as the AL champion flapped above the ballpark. The Rangers celebrated on the field with ginger ale in deference to Hamilton's well-documented substance abuse problems.
Players dumped the contents of a water cooler on fourth-year manager Ron Washington, who in the summer of the 2009 wasn't even sure he'd keep his job after admitting to using cocaine once. But Ryan and general manager Jon Daniels stuck by Washington then and again last spring when the story became public.
Cliff Lee was waiting if needed by the Rangers for a deciding Game 7 against the Yankees. Now the ace left-hander can rest up for Game 1 of the World Series, on Wednesday night in either San Francisco or Philadelphia. The Giants lead the National League Championship Series 3-2.
The Rangers outplayed the Yankees in every facet. Along with their slugging, they showed off something Ryan has brought them -- a culture in which pitching rules and starters expect to go deep into games.
A championship is quite a feat for the franchise that began in 1961 as the expansion Washington Senators and moved to Texas in 1972 with Ted Williams as their manager.
By reaching the World Series in the franchise's 50th season, the past 39 in Texas, it marks the longest it has taken a club to get there for the first time. Montreal/Washington (42 seasons) and Seattle (34) haven't yet made it.
Ryan, whose only World Series as a player came for the 1969 New York Mets, was presented with the AL championship trophy after spending much of the game standing, clapping and hollering along with the rest of the raucous crowd.
Fans rarely sat in the final innings, cheering wildly with each strike and screaming for every out that got their beloved team -- the one that had the fewest wins in the regular season among the eight playoff teams -- closer to the World Series.
Chants of "Colby!, Colby!, Colby!" filled the air for the pitcher back with his original team after pitching the past two seasons in Japan, where he fully expected to finish his career before returning to Texas last winter.
"I got a little too overamped when they were saying my name. It was really, really cool," Lewis said. "I'm speechless. I never thought I'd be in this position."
Before going the full five games in the AL division series this season to beat Tampa Bay for their first-ever postseason series victory, the Rangers had been knocked out of the playoffs by New York in 1996, 1998 and 1999 -- and the Yankees went on to win the World Series each time.
When the Yankees overcame a 5-1 deficit in the ALCS opener a week ago for a 6-5 victory, their postseason winning streak over Texas had reached 10 games.
Texas led 5-1 again in Game 6, after Guerrero's two-out, two-run double that chased Yankees starter Phil Hughes in the fifth before Cruz greeted reliever David Robertson with a homer to one of the deepest parts of Rangers Ballpark.
Guerrero didn't have an RBI in the series until his grounder in the first drove home Elvis Andrus.
The big hit by Guerrero came right after Hamilton was intentionally walked for the second time in the game.
After going 2-for-18 with two singles in the division series, Hamilton broke out in the ALCS. So much so that he was intentionally walked five times, an ALCS record, including three times in the clincher.
When Girardi signaled for the first one in the third with a runner on second, Hughes' first pitch was too wide and got by Jorge Posada. The Yankees still walked Hamilton, the majors' leading hitter in the regular season (.359), who also had 32 homers and 100 RBIs.
Hughes, who also lost to Lewis in Game 2, allowed four runs and four hits over 4 2/3 innings.
Lewis was drafted by the Rangers in 1999, the last season they had made the playoffs until now. He won 10 games as a rookie in 2003 before tearing a rotator cuff the next season, setting up a journey that led through three other organizations before he went to Japan.
New York got its only run in the fifth when Nick Swisher was hit by a pitch, though umpires missed that part of the play.
Rodriguez was at third base after leading off with a double, the first hit off Lewis. Then a pitch bounced, hit Swisher just below the left knee and ricocheted away from catcher Bengie Molina toward the backstop.
A-Rod jogged home and Molina started vehemently arguing with home plate umpire Brian Gorman that the ball hit Swisher and should be dead. Washington also came out and Gorman conferred with other umpires.
None of them saw the ball hit Swisher, though replays clearly showed it did.
Curtis Granderson was caught stealing to end the Yankees' first inning. He and Girardi both questioned second-base umpire Tony Randazzo about the call. Replays showed the ump got it right. While Granderson beat the throw, his foot was over but not touching the base when he was tagged.