ARLINGTON -- A handful of players trickled into the Texas Rangers' clubhouse Saturday afternoon to pack up their lockers, some 12 hours after their flight back from St. Louis after Game 7 of the World Series.
The front-office staff, along with manager Ron Washington and members of his coaching staff, convened in the center-field office space to ponder what went wrong at Busch Stadium and also to take a quick peek into an off-season that begins in earnest.
Maybe going back to work was a good thing as the Rangers tried to move forward after seeing the club's first world championship slip away in back-to-back losses Thursday and Friday to lose the 107th Fall Classic.
The Rangers didn't need to be reminded how close they were. Twice in Game 6 they were a strike away, only to see the Cardinals forge ties in the ninth and 10th innings and win it 10-9 in the 11th.
St. Louis took the finale 6-2, and the Rangers took the red-eye home after becoming the first team since 1992 to lose consecutive World Series.
"We appreciate what we've done, and we're happy and we're blessed that it happened," left-hander Derek Holland said Saturday. "But at the same time, it's a letdown to us. We made it for the second year in the row, and we didn't get the job done.
"We feel like we let ourselves down, our fans down, and Texas down. We had the team to do it."
While the Series might be remembered as a classic, the scar from Game 6 might never go away. The Rangers led 7-4 with five outs to go, and needed only one strike to get David Freese for the final out in the ninth with a 7-5 lead.
But Freese's line drive to right field eluded Nelson Cruz, a catch many believe should have been made, and turned into a game-tying triple. After Josh Hamilton homered in the 10th for a 9-7 lead, left-hander Darren Oliver failed to retire either of the first two Cardinals left-handed hitters in the bottom half, and Lance Berkman kept St. Louis alive with an RBI single on a 2-2 pitch from Scott Feldman.
In Game 7, the Rangers scored twice in the first but never again as St. Louis benefited from five walks and two hit batsmen in the first five innings.
The pitching staff yielded 13 walks in Games 6 and 7, the majority by the bullpen. A unit that had been so good was running on fumes, and it showed in their lack of command.
"When you start accumulating walks, you start wondering if fatigue played a factor," said right-hander Mike Adams, who finished 2011 with 86 appearances and 82 innings. "Coming into this series, I was worn down. I'm sure everyone else was also. It caught up to us. You've still got to go out there and do the job. We just weren't able to get that done."
Rangers pitchers allowed 41 walks -- nine intentionally -- to set a World Series record. Staff ace C.J. Wilson allowed 11 of those in 12 1/3 innings.
The left-hander is the Rangers' biggest free agent this off-season, but it's uncertain what effect his winless postseason (0-3, 5.79 ERA) will have on the value of his contract.
But all nine regular position players in the postseason are under contract for 2012, as are three members of the regular-season rotation. The Rangers are likely to exercise their option on a fourth member, Colby Lewis, and much of the bullpen will return.
Those are significant building blocks for a third straight trip to the World Series.
"Any time you go to the World Series [and don't win], you should be disappointed," catcher Yorvit Torrealba said. "That's what you play for. But, hey, it's in the past. We're moving forward. Next year most of the guys are going to stay here. We're ready to try again."
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760