PHOENIX – Marcus Semien’s journey was long, but his path to exultation short – just a few feet, the distance that separates shortstop and second base on a diamond.
Josh Sborz had just dropped a curveball that caught Ketel Marte looking for the final out of the World Series, securing the first championship in Texas Rangers history, and Semien knew where he had to go: Airborne and into the arms of Corey Seager.
It’s been almost two years since the two All-Stars took a leap of faith, aided by $500 million in salary from Rangers owner Ray Davis, and decided they could win here, wanted to win here. And every day since, the middle infielders were everything:
The quiet observers who saw how a losing culture could be mended. The grinders who insisted they be in the lineup every day they were able. And the superstars who might attract other top-shelf talent like themselves.
Ultimately, they excelled when it mattered most, their rare shows of emotions in this era of flamboyance signaling something special was afoot.
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Wednesday night at Chase Field, it was Semien who finally let his guard down, destroying a Paul Sewald fastball to provide the final blow, a two-run ninth-inning home run, in the Rangers’ clinching 5-0 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
As the ball cleared the left field wall, Semien turned and exhorted his teammates in the dugout. Let out a roar as he approached second base. And uttered an unmentionable exultation after crossing home plate.
Minutes later, after Sborz posted his 11th scoreless inning this postseason to finish off the win, Semien broke down.
“I ran right to Corey,” says Semien amid the Rangers’ clubhouse celebration, “had some emotion, shed some tears. This is my first one. This isn’t his first one, so I probably had more tears than him.
“But this is why we play the game.”
Seager was the no-doubt winner of a second World Series MVP, with a ninth-inning game-tying home run in a Game 1 win, three homers overall and crucial contributions such as the opposite-field dribbler that broke up Zac Gallen’s no-hit bid in the seventh inning and led to the game’s first run.
He also won Series MVP honors in 2020, when the Los Angeles Dodgers won it all during the COVID-19 bubble that would become Seager’s future home – Globe Life Field in Arlington.
Semien, meanwhile, grinded away for six years in Oakland, not far from his East Bay home, before finding lackluster free agent offers for the 2021 season. A bridge year in Toronto produced 46 home runs and a far more lucrative trip to free agency.
Seager was also on the market. The Rangers needed a reboot after $1.2 billion Globe Life opened and wretched teams followed, including 102 losses in 2021.
Cue the light bulb above the head.
“We were just excited to be in a new place,” says Semien. “He’d obviously won a lot more than I did. I did OK. But we knew it was something new. We were both in our primes.
“Why not get the W, and get the ring?”
Seager signed on for $325 million over 10 years, Semien for $175 million over seven. Pitcher Jon Gray joined them, for four years and $56 million, and the team lost 94 more games.
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But the beachhead was established.
“Corey and Marcus – they believed in us at a time they didn’t have to,” says general manager Chris Young. “I’m so happy they’ve been rewarded.
“It was just the start. We couldn’t stop. We were sick of losing. Our players were sick of losing.”
They didn’t stop spending – two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom was guaranteed $185 million before this year – and did stop the losing. Lost in the megabucks haze was the $34 million signing of Nathan Eovaldi, always underappreciated but a force in October: He grinded through six scoreless innings of Game 5 to earn the win, the first pitcher to start and win five postseason games ever.
Eovaldi knew the foundation was there – with $500 million pledged to a stellar middle infield.
“Ownership committed for those guys to be here long term,” Eovaldi said Thursday of Seager and Semien. “When you have two top-caliber guys like those two, leaders – you build championship organizations around them.”
Added catcher Jonah Heim: “They’re the backbone that makes us go. When they go, we go and we knew that all year. You see what Corey did in the playoffs, he was the MVP all year.
“And Semien turned it up the last couple days and it was special to watch.”
Seager will learn later this month whether he’ll add the first MVP award to his postseason hardware, after a 33-homer, 42-double, 1.013 OPS season despite two stints on the injured list. Semien hit 29 home runs and drove in 100 out of the leadoff spot – every single day.
Semien’s preparation is legend, his commitment to conserve energy and be available almost as valuable as his baseball skills. For the third time in the last four full seasons, he played in all 162 games – and played in 161 in the other one.
With the Rangers’ 90-win season relegating them to the wild card series, he added 17 more playoff games, a 179-game grind that sent him into the record books.
His five plate appearances in Game 5 gave him 835 in a single year, regular and postseason, breaking Lenny Dykstra’s record set in 1993.
Perhaps the wear showed at times. Semien had two extra-base hits and no home runs in his 66 playoff at-bats, batting .197 in 15 games.
But he finished with a flourish.
Semien drove in five runs with a triple and home run in Game 4 and singled and homered in Game 5.
“Baseball. We’re not playing football or basketball. We’re playing baseball,” he says. “You can go out there and do something special every day.”
Nothing more special than Game 179, and seeing a dream crystallize with your partner in crime.
“It was a lot of trust,” says Seager. “A lot of trust from them to me and me to them, and a lot of trust for Marcus to come – all these guys that came here and had the same vision.
“It’s pretty cool to see it through.”
Says Semien: “Everybody in the room – we all played for this. We didn’t play for any other accolades.
“We played for this.”
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