ARLINGTON, Texas -- Hours before the biggest series of the year (at least so far), Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington was making jokes and laughing with the media in his office.
He did not look like a man in charge of a team that had been blown out for three consecutive games and watched its lead shrink to a mere two games in the American League West. He was relaxed and confident -- enough, in fact, to share his belief that his team wasn't scared of Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver on short rest, saying they aren't Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax -- as he prepared for Friday's tilt with the hard-charging Los Angeles Angels. Anaheim came in with a six-game winning streak and all the momentum, hoping to scare the Rangers enough to leave Arlington on top of the division.
Some managers would have called a team meeting and preached the importance of bouncing back. But that wasn't how Washington wanted to handle it. He didn't see any reason to remind his players of what they already knew.
"I think we understand what happened [against Boston]," Washington said after the game. "We didn't throw balls all around the place. Boston beat us. When you get beat and you understand why it happened, why should you put any more tension on yourself than is already there at this point of the season? We got thoroughly beat. It happens. We've thoroughly beat people, and sometimes you get beat. Each day is a different day. Tonight, we played better than Anaheim. Tomorrow, we'll have to see."
Washington's team followed its manager's lead. The Rangers calmly went out and took charge. They played more like the team that was just three outs from an eight-game lead late last week in Anaheim. They got great starting pitching, delivered crushing blows with bats that weren't clicking for much of the week and actually got some breaks, something that wasn't happening while losing six of eight before Friday.
Gone was any resemblance to the squad that hit just .197 and scored 2.6 runs per game during that streak. The Rangers pounded out 11 runs on 18 hits in an 11-7 win that pushed the AL West lead to three games and guarantees that no matter what happens in the next two days, the Rangers will still be in first place when the Angels depart Arlington after Sunday night's game on ESPN.
Washington's gut deserves credit for Friday's win, too. He made all the right moves, including a switch in his lineup to try to give his offense a spark. That spark turned into a fire Friday. Washington felt Nelson Cruz was trying a bit too hard and, in an effort to relax him, dropped him to seventh in the order for the first time all season. He then inserted David Murphy as the DH and put him eighth.
Cruz was 4-for-27 in his last seven games prior to Friday and was swinging the bat poorly enough that Washington gave him a day off during the Boston series. Murphy was 1-for-12 in his previous five games and was hitting .240 on the season. But Washington's gut told him those two could make some noise in the bottom of the order. And Washington knows it's usually smart to trust his gut.
Even before the game, Murphy was saying he thought it was a good move against right-hander Dan Haren. And he and Cruz made the skipper look good.
The drop in the order appeared to motivate Cruz.
"Staying in the lineup is the only thing that matters," Cruz said. "I don't like the decision but the only thing that I care about is to be in the lineup."
Murphy said earlier this week that he was trying to quit being so hard on himself. After a few productive seasons, he expected more of himself, and so far this year it hasn't happened.
"But there's another month left," Murphy said. "I want to help this team."
He did Friday. With the bases loaded and no one out in the fifth, Murphy turned on a cutter from Haren that was a bit high and belted it just inside the foul pole. It was his second career grand slam. When Murphy got back to the dugout, the fans implored him to acknowledge them, and his teammates pushed him up the stairs for a curtain call, his first.
"We took a few days of frustration out and played a great game tonight," Murphy said. "It's going to be a battle all weekend long. We did a great job of starting the series off right, and hopefully we can take that into [Saturday]."
But besides those two very big bats Friday, the guy starting on the mound was integral in the victory. One big question for the Rangers as the game arrived: Which Derek Holland would show up? Was it the one who gave up five runs on eight hits and couldn't get out of the fourth against the Chicago White Sox or the one who was one out from a complete-game victory against the Angels last week?
Turns out it was the "good" Holland, the one with solid command on his fastball and great movement with his off-speed stuff. He went into the seventh inning, got out of a few jams and gave up just one run on eight hits.
"He kept putting up zeros, and that's what we needed from him," Washington said. "He did the job."
Ian Kinsler wasn't surprised to see his club put the Boston series behind it.
"That's what you need to do to be successful," Kinsler said. "If you don't respond in tough situations, you're not going to be a successful team. I don't think you're going to find any successful teams that don't respond well to adversity. That's what you have to do."
Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.