Whatever the reason, things finally came together for the struggling Rangers on Friday. Behind their biggest offensive showing in six days and Brandon McCarthy's best start in a Texas uniform, they overpowered the Toronto Blue Jays, 7-1, in the opener of their three-game series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
Manager Ron Washington confessed he was bereft of answers on Thursday night after the New York Yankees swept a doubleheader to extend the Rangers' losing streak to a season-high five games. So the players took matters into their own hands before Friday's game, closing their clubhouse to coaches and media for a private 15-minute congregation.
"I didn't ask what they discussed, I didn't care what they discussed," Washington said after the resulting victory. "But whatever they discussed, I hope they talk about it again tomorrow."
Players didn't divulge details of their meeting, but it's reasonable to assume that stepping up individual responsibilty for the team's tepid start was a central theme. First baseman Mark Teixeira had demanded as much from himself and others after Thursday's doubleheader, and admitted: "It's tough coming to work every day when you're losing."
The hitters responded, racking up more than three runs for the first time in six games, and doing so against a starter they had never beaten. Jays right-hander Tomo Ohka had gone 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA against Texas in four previous starts. But on Friday, the Rangers knocked Ohka (2-3) around for seven runs (six earned) on 10 hits in 7 1/3 innings.
Hank Blalock and Kenny Lofton homered. Michael Young had just his second three-hit game of the season and scored twice. Gerald Laird drove in two runs and Blalock drove in three more. The Rangers had 11 hits, four off their season high, and played errorless defense.
"We put together what we haven't been putting together," Washington said.
But the highlight of the night, and the biggest surprise given his recent form, was the excellent performance by McCarthy.
After giving up 17 runs in six innings while losing his previous three starts, McCarthy reached the fourth inning for the first time since April 8, and looked mostly sharp doing it. The 23-year-old right-hander held the Jays to one run on two hits over six innings. He even escaped unscathed after walking the bases loaded in the fourth.
"I could see some fight in him tonight," Washington said. "You could see the determination."
McCarthy (2-4) knew he might be pitching to keep his No. 3 slot in the rotation, so he trusted his stuff and let it rip. He struggled early with his changeup and breaking pitches, but resolved to be the toughest one-pitch pitcher he could. He had the best velocity of the season on his fastball (93 mph) and at times looked overpowering to the Jays.
"He went out and took charge of that ballgame," pitching coach Mark Connor said approvingly. "He's a big-league pitcher, and he showed that tonight. I saw a guy on a mission."
"Yeah, a guy on a mission to go out and throw more than three innings," McCarthy said wryly. "I knew in the back of my mind this was a big one. Another bad start would've started a trend. It felt good, but I've still got a lot of things to work on. I was just [angry over the previous starts], more than anything, because I wasn't throwing like I know I can."
Laird's two-run single in the second gave McCarthy an early lead, but he threw a high fastball to Jays catcher Sal Fasano in the top of the third that resulted in a solo home run, cutting the lead to 2-1. It wound up being Toronto's only score of the game.
Teixeira doubled home one run and Blalock slugged a two-run homer to give Texas a 5-1 lead in the bottom of the third. But McCarthy nearly fumbled that lead away, walking the bases full with two out in the fourth before ending the threat on a liner to right by Fasano.
"He got in trouble right there, where they really couldn've had a big inning if they got a hit," Washington said. "He didn't let it happen."
It was an escape that might be remembered as a turning point in McCarthy's season.
"That's a jam that's been killing me," McCarthy said. "That's got to be a time where I get it together for the team."
He did, and after working two more perfect innings to reach 94 pitches, McCarthy was relieved after the sixth. Right-hander Willie Eyre pitched three scoreless innings to earn his first save in impressive fashion.
At 11-18, the Rangers still have matched their fourth-worst start in franchise history. Only the 1982 and 1985 clubs (both 9-20) and the 1984 team (10-19) had worse records 29 games into the season. Washington described the situation with one word before the game.
"Bewilderment," he said.
"It's the feeling of not being able to figure out what's going on and fix it. When you see a Michael Young hitting .190 [now .210], that's bewildered. When you see a player like Mark Teixeira with eight RBIs, that's bewildered. When you see a lot of things not the status quo around here, it's bewilderment."