Adversity buffer keeps Rangers loose
Game 2: Texas relies on unflappable character to bounce back at home against Yankees
ARLINGTON, Texas -- These Texas Rangers sure do have short memories.
Maybe they are too young to let bad losses linger.
Maybe because of a season filled with distractions that might have derailed many other teams -- from the manager's spring training drug admission to the bankruptcy court drama -- they've managed to construct their own insulated bubble to block out everything but what happens in the future.
Maybe they have a quiet confidence that others want to ignore despite an uncanny ability to bounce back from the lowest of lows this season.
Or maybe the most likely explanation is they take a cue from unwavering manager Ron Washington, who portrays a stress-free attitude and backs it up by trusting his players even after rough games.
Less than 24 hours after Texas blew a four-run lead with six outs to go in Game 1 against its playoff nemesis, the Rangers put the loss in the rear-view mirror early in Game 2. They scored five runs in the first three innings and never looked back, tying the best-of-7 ALCS with the New York Yankees at one game apiece with a 7-2 win.
It was the first playoff home victory in club history, a well-balanced team effort that made the manager proud. The Rangers had timely hitting, ran the bases aggressively, hit the long ball, pitched and played defense. In the process, the club changed the tenor of the series and heads to New York with its star attraction, Cliff Lee, waiting to take the Yankee Stadium stage in Game 3.
"We don't let things bother us," Ian Kinsler said. "We have great character on this team. Wash is the leader and he brings great energy and confidence. Everyone on this team is tight, we feed off each other and we move forward."
Regrouping after a tough, kick-in-the-gut loss, or a string of them, is nothing new for this team:
- They blew a lead late on the first road trip in Cleveland, were swept at Yankee Stadium and lost two of three in Boston. They came back to win 15 of the next 21.
- They lost six of seven in May, including three one-run losses, but immediately turned the calendar to a memorable June, winning 20 of the next 25 -- including 11 in a row.
- Baltimore swept the Rangers in a four-game series in Arlington before the All-Star break, getting six runs off Lee in his Texas debut. The Rangers came out of the break and won the next four series, including a swing through Boston and Detroit.
- They blew a 6-1 lead to the Yankees on Aug. 11 and had an off day to think about it. They came back two days later and engineered a comeback of their own against Boston in a memorable 10-9, 11-inning walk-off win.
- The Rangers tightened up as they tried to clinch the AL West, losing two of three in Seattle and stumbling in Anaheim. But a 2-1 win in 12 innings at Angel Stadium put the magic number down to four, and they clinched a few days later in Oakland.
Of course, the resilient Rangers have been at it again in the postseason. Ahead 2-0 in the five-game ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays, the Rangers led Game 3, 2-1, in the eighth -- only to blow the lead. They lost Game 4 at home as well and headed back to Florida with no momentum. Lee took care of all of that in a memorable Game 5 win capped by ginger ale and champagne.
So Saturday was merely the latest in a string of this behavior this season, and Kinsler wasn't the only one crediting the manager.
"There's a calming presence by the veterans when things aren't going our way, and Wash does a very good job of being able to encourage," hitting coach Clint Hurdle said. "He knows when there's a pat on the back or a smack in the butt that needs to be given. There's a three-foot difference, but timing is everything. He's very good with that."
Loyalty is an important part of Washington's style. With such a quick turnaround, it would not have been difficult to blame him if he tried to navigate through the late innings a little differently against the Yankees on Saturday. But Washington believes that just because Darren Oliver, Clay Rapada and Darren O'Day didn't get the job done Friday night doesn't mean they can't get the job done Saturday.
"Those are the guys that got us here," said Washington, almost defiant. "I don't have a team like the New York Yankees or the Philadelphia Phillies. I've got the Texas Rangers. We're a bunch of wildcats. We're a bunch of kids learning how to play baseball. We're a bunch of guys learning how to be champions. We're a bunch of guys learning how to win. Along with that, there's going to be some setbacks. But they're my guys. I've got to put them back in. I don't have a choice."
Rapada trotted to the mound with two on and two out in the sixth to face left-handed hitting Brett Gardner. Washington was waiting on him. He gave him a rousing pep talk, telling him that he didn't care if Roger Maris was coming up, that Rapada was his guy and that he'd get him out.
"As I reliever, I want to get in there and do my job," Rapada said. "Everyone in the bullpen wants the ball. It was a great bounce-back day for the bullpen."
After a 1-2-3 inning for Alexi Ogando, Oliver got the call for the eighth. He walked Nick Swisher (again) on a 3-2 pitch to lead off the inning. But he struck out Jorge Posada and got Lance Berkman to ground out before giving way to O'Day, who got Thames to ground out on two pitches.
Neftali Feliz finished the game, but not before back-to-back walks (the second time he's done that this postseason) with one out in a five-run game.
Washington turned to pitching coach Mike Maddux and said, "I got this one."
He then went out and demanded Feliz stay focused.
"I told him that we had his back and that he needed to believe in himself," Washington said. "The thing about belief is that we can't do that for him. He has to do it. He bounced back."
Just like the rest of his team.