All-Star Rangers are extra motivated
Ron Washington's bunch knows importance of having home field for World Series
ARLINGTON, Texas -- No one needs to tell the Texas Rangers about the importance of winning the All-Star Game.
Would playing Game 6 of the 2011 World Series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington instead of Busch Stadium have changed the outcome? What about starting the series at home?
It's tough to know for sure. But after two straight World Series losses -- both with the National League team having the home-field advantage -- there's a clear understanding in the Rangers' clubhouse that they'd like to see what happens if they get their raucous sellout crowd to bookend the Fall Classic.
"Going in this year, we have a different perspective because we know how important it is to start at home and finish at home in the World Series," said third baseman Adrian Beltre, voted by fans to start the All-Star Game on July 10 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. "No doubt I believe, and some of the guys believe, that it was one of the keys to not winning last year.
"We had to play the last two games at their home. When you play at home, it's better. The fans are into it and you expect to win at home. I fully believe that if we played those two games at home, our chances would be a lot better."
Rangers manager Ron Washington has been careful to stress that if you want to be a champion, you should be able to win the World Series with or without four home games.
"Don't get me wrong, who wouldn't want to play four games, if you get to the World Series, in your ballpark?" said Washington, who will manage the AL All-Stars for the second consecutive year. "But you're in the World Series. I don't think playing four games in St. Louis was the reason we lost. But I'd certainly like to win an All-Star Game in case I find myself in the World Series again."
So would the contingent of Rangers that Washington is taking with him to Kansas City.
"This game is very important for us," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "If we get an opportunity this year to play in the World Series, we want that home-field advantage. Having the coaching staff there is important. That's going to be their main focus trying to win that game, and I think [for] everyone in here it's going to be our main focus, to try to win that game."
There will be plenty of Rangers on hand to try to help decide the outcome. So far, a club-record seven are in the game, and it could increase to eight by Thursday afternoon.
Washington will have his coaching staff and nearly his entire infield, with Beltre starting at third base and Elvis Andrus and Kinsler in the middle as reserves. Mike Napoli will start behind the plate and pitchers Matt Harrison, Joe Nathan and probably Yu Darvish (he's bound to win an international popularity vote for the final spot, isn't he?) ready to get key batters out. He's got 2010 AL MVP Josh Hamilton as a starter for the middle of the lineup, as well.
But the skipper won't let any win-at-all-costs attitude make him vastly alter his All-Star Game strategy. It's still the All-Star Game. He's got a gaggle of talented players, and he wants to get as many of them into the game as he can and make sure everyone has fun. But if the game is on the line late, Washington will do whatever he can to win it.
"We'll just see if we can put some runs on the board and take a lead, and then I might change and become selfish and try to win the game," Washington said.
Don't misunderstand: Washington wants to win the game. And the reality is he's in much better shape to do that this year than he was last year in Phoenix, when multiple injuries and too many starters pitching the Sunday before the All-Star Game limited his options.
Heck, he had Josh Beckett warming up in the second inning only to find out the Red Sox right-hander couldn't go in because of knee soreness. Washington didn't have his biggest pitching guns to fire at the National League, and it proved costly.
A new rule this year allows pitchers who start the Sunday before to throw on a pitch count in the All-Star Game if they choose. Washington seemed confident that if he has a few of his choices throwing Sunday, they would help him get a few batters out if needed. It makes a lot more sense. Justin Verlander started Sunday last year and was not allowed to pitch in the All-Star Game, yet he threw a bullpen session prior to the game. This year, a pitcher can throw what amounts to a bullpen session during the game.
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Washington won't have injured Yankees star Mariano Rivera in the bullpen, but there are five closers to provide options for mixing and matching late in the game. The slugger who cost the AL squad the win last year -- Prince Fielder -- will be in Washington's dugout.
Washington has power in the starting lineup and versatility on the bench. Plus, the game is in an AL park, giving his team the final chance to bat.
But the biggest advantage for Washington could be his own determined players. That includes Harrison, who started Game 7 in St. Louis last October and would love the chance to start in that situation again on his home mound.
"We had opportunity to win those games the last two years, but it would be big to have those at home and to start at home," Harrison said. "We want to win this game."
After all, the All-Star Rangers could be helping themselves more than anybody else.