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Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Experience matters, but how much?

By Jeff Caplan

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The 2008 World Series remains a very fresh memory for many of the Tampa Bay Raysand manager Joe Maddon said it even pushed his team this season after it got off to a sluggish start.

"Experience is always a good thing to have," Maddon said. "I just think with that experience our guys were more expecting this to happen."

It is true that few expected the Rangers to be here, gearing up for Wednesday afternoon's Game 1 of an American League Division Series.

But, here are they are and Rangers manager Ron Washington, a baseball lifer in his first postseason as a manager, stood firm in his conviction that his fresh-faced team would not be intimidated by the weight of the moment.

"Once we get out on the field, the first pitch is made, the first swing of the bat is made, the first defensive play is made, then it’s just baseball. That’s the message I’m sending. It’s just baseball once that happens," Washington said. "You play each day for what it is. You play each game according to what’s presented to you on that day and I think if you stay within those realms, things work out.

"Now," Washington continued, "there will be some anxious energy and that’s all it is. It won’t be because we’re afraid. It’s going to be who plays the best game on that day and that’s where our focus is."

It's not as though the Rangers are entirely playoff newbies. Game 1 starter Cliff Lee was 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA through the World Series last season with the Philadelphia Phillies. He holds the experience edge over Tampa's series-opening starter David Price. As a rookie, the 6-foot-6, hard-throwing lefty pitched 5 2/3 innings of relief in the Rays' 2008 run.

Vladimir Guerrero is making his sixth trip to the playoffs. Reliever Darren Oliver is also making his sixth trip and second with the Rangers (1996). Jeff Francoeur, who is expected to start in right field in Game 1, also has October experience.

"No doubt about it, they should set the tone, but each and every one of those other guys have a job to do also," Washington said. "But, I think if Cliff Lee goes out there and pitches a Cliff Lee-type game and Guerrero goes out and has a Guerrero-type game and Darren Oliver, who’s been in the playoffs, has a Darren Oliver-type game, then they'll put all those other guys in position to do it."

The atmosphere inside the Rangers' clubhouse prior to Monday's workout session had its trademark looseness. Catcher Matt Treanor, who is entering his first postseason and is could be behind the plate for Thursday's Game 2, said the only difference he could discern between the regular season and preparing for the postseason had nothing to do with the team or its nerves, but simply the increased number of media in the clubhouse, which mostly came to gather around batting champ and AL MVP candidate Josh Hamilton.

And that's the way Washington wants it -- business as usual -- from his young and inexperienced club.

"We're planning on keeping our routine the same," Washington said. "We’re not changing anything."