Texas Rangers grew into winners, Ron Washington's way
The Texas Rangers had just one winning season in the seven before they hired Ron Washington as manager. And that's turned out to be a pretty good hire: They entered Saturday night's sixth game of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers just a win away from their second consecutive World Series appearance.
But turning the team into a winner wasn't accomplished quickly or easily, Washington said.
"It all comes down to three things: It comes down to the attitude, comes down to commitment, it comes down to effort," said Washington, who was the third base coach in Oakland before getting his first big-league managerial job in 2007.
"We certainly had to learn how to pitch. We certainly had to learn how important defense is. We had to learn how to run the base paths. We had to learn to take advantage of the talent we have and let them go out there and expose itself and find out what it can do and what it can't do."
What the Rangers found out was the talent it had was mostly of the "can't do" variety. As a result, just two of the starters from Washington's first game -- Ian Kinsler and Michael Young -- are still with the team. Only right-hander Scott Feldman and left-hander C.J. Wilson remain from that season's pitching staff.
Yet the team has gotten slightly younger as it has gotten better.
"We've given many opportunities to young kids that, maybe in other organizations, wouldn't have had that opportunity," Washington said. "We nurture our players. We certainly support every one of them throughout the whole organization.
"That's what it's about when you talk about success."
And, says Young, that change in philosophy has led to a change of mentality in the clubhouse.
"We come to the ballgame expecting to win," he said. "Makeup-wise, this team is off the charts. It’s really a blue-collar professional group. And it’s fun to be part of something like that."
Just happy to be here
Detroit Manager Jim Leyland on Saturday hardly sounded like a guy whose team was a loss away from elimination. In an afternoon meeting with the media he teased about benching slugger Delmon Young for a game after he homered twice, praised the players on both teams for their toughness and used the words "great" or "exciting" six times to describe the first five games of the ALCS.
Now all the Tigers have to do is earn the right to stay here by winning Saturday, setting up a winner-take-all Game 7.
"That's easier said then done," he admitted.
"Like any other series it's up to the players. You have to play good enough to extend this thing to Game 7 and we're ready. I couldn't ask for anything better."
Here, hit this
Detroit's Miguel Cabrera, the American League's leading hitter this season, has blistered the Rangers in the ALCS, batting .375 with five extra-base hits and five runs batted in. That led Texas reliever Darren Oliver to develop an interesting strategy for pitching to the Tiger slugger.
"I just throw it down the middle and see if he can get himself out," Oliver said with a shrug. "He might not be expecting that pitch. That’s what I used to do with Tony Gwynn. A lot of times he’d pop it up."
And a lot of times he didn't, since he hit .400 in 15 career at-bats against Oliver.
"It didn’t work all the time," the left-hander confessed. "You’ve got to try something."
-- Kevin Baxter in Arlington, Texas
Photo: Texas Manager Ron Washington, left, talks to third baseman Adrian Beltre before a game at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas. Credit: Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press