Commentary

Looks like Rangers got message

Texas cleans up act against Angels after manager speaks mind in team meeting

Updated: June 4, 2012, 11:21 AM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- You can only call so many team meetings before you risk your team starting to tune you out.

That's why when manager Ron Washington feels the need to speak to his Texas Rangers after a game, they listen.

Washington hasn't called many meetings in his six years at the helm, but after watching his team bobble balls and bungle opportunities in an ugly loss Saturday night at Angel Stadium, the skipper had seen enough.

[+] EnlargeElvis Andrus
Kelvin Kuo/US PresswireWhen Elvis Andrus argued a call instead of trying to make a play Saturday night, it inspired Rangers manager Ron Washington to call a team meeting.

Washington did most of the talking. He stressed playing "Ranger baseball," meaning strong defense, good pitching, aggressiveness on the bases and timely hitting.

"And having some fun," Washington said. "It didn't seem fun."

It looked a lot more fun Sunday. The Rangers resembled the team that stormed out to a 23-12 start, not the one that has played one game under .500 since.

When they left Angel Stadium after a 7-3 win, they were still 4½ games ahead in the AL West despite knowing they haven't played their best lately.

In other words: The Angels still need plenty of help from the Rangers if they want to catch them.

But Texas isn't really worried about the standings in June.

"We do a good job of worrying about ourselves," Michael Young said.

That's what precipitated the meeting, not any change in the standings. And the Rangers responded in Sunday's victory. They played solid defense, eliminating the errors and misplays that have plagued them the past three weeks. They came up with clutch hits. They got solid starting pitching. They ran the bases hard and, yes, they had some fun.

It was about time.

The best example: Elvis Andrus.

When the shortstop argued with an umpire rather than throw a ball to first to finish a play during Saturday's game, Washington decided a meeting had to happen right away. It was three weeks of rough play that built to that moment, but Andrus' brain cramp signified the team's mental funk.

"It was something teams that aren't doing the right things do," Washington said. "It had to change."

Andrus thought a chopper had hit Erick Aybar on the jersey, which would have been an out. But rather than gloving the ball and throwing to first before arguing, Andrus stopped. The umpire called safe and the Rangers didn't have any chance at an out.

"It was a learning experience," Washington said.

Andrus knew it, too. And he returned Sunday intent on moving on. Andrus was all over the field, making two terrific backhand plays deep in the hole at short and making tough throws to first. He was 3-for-4 at the plate and drove in two runs.

[+] EnlargeNelson Cruz
AP Photo/Chris CarlsonNelson Cruz celebrates after his monster two-run homer, on an 3-0 pitch, gave the Rangers a 5-2 lead in the seventh inning Sunday.

"Sometimes things happen and you don't see it's happening," Andrus said about his focus. "A talk like that early can be great. It woke me up a little bit. I told myself I have to separate my offense and my defense, and really focus better on every pitch and what I'm doing to prepare for every play. It was helpful."

It was also important for the manager to show with his own actions what he was preaching to his team. Washington told his players Saturday that they had to stay aggressive and keep going after opponents. So when Nelson Cruz got ahead in the count 3-0 in a 5-2 game in the seventh Sunday, Washington gave him the green light.

"I had to be aggressive too," Washington said. "I gave him the 3-0 hack and he did a good job with it. That's what you're supposed to do on a 3-0 pitch."

What Cruz did was send the ball to an area of Angel Stadium that is relatively unexplored. The 484-foot shot, as measured by ESPN's Home Run Tracker, landed near the Monster Energy sign high up a hill in left field. The homer was the longest hit at the stadium since 2006, when the Home Run Tracker's database began. It was also the longest homer hit in the majors this season.

But long homers used to be the main calling card of this team. Not anymore. The versatile offense that helped this club get off to a great start showed signs of a return Sunday. The Rangers moved runners over with sacrifice bunts and had productive outs. They pounded out 14 hits and left 14 men on base, a sign they were constantly putting pressure on the opponent, a hallmark of this lineup.

"We were aggressive out there," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "We were threatening every inning. We worked [Angels starter Dan Haren] for over 100 pitches, and he was out in the fifth. We stuck to our game plan and executed."

The deep lineup made life tough on Haren.

"Their seven, eight, nine hitters could probably hit three, four, five in a couple of National League lineups," Haren said. "They never let you breathe."

With Haren out of the game, the Rangers added five runs off the Angels' bullpen.

How they played, just as much as the win itself, left the players pleased and probably a bit relieved as they headed off to Oakland for a week-long stay in Northern California. The Rangers must now use Sunday as a springboard to playing more consistent baseball.

"You don't win games because of team meetings," Kinsler said. "We knew we had to start playing better. It was a chance for us to talk about that. Now we have to do it."

Richard Durrett joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He writes about colleges, the Dallas Stars and the Texas Rangers. Richard spent nine years at The Dallas Morning News covering the Rangers, Stars, colleges, motorsports and high schools.

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