Murphy's walk-off ends Rangers' slide

Murphy's walk-off ends slide

ARLINGTON -- David Murphy thrust a triumphant fist in the air. His teammates stormed the field, mobbing him near second base as if a pennant had just been won. What remained of the Rangers Ballpark crowd of 19,016 on Friday night cheered wildly.

And in the Texas dugout, Rangers manager Ron Washington managed a thin smile after Murphy's two-out single in the bottom of the 10th provided a 6-5 victory over the Minnesota Twins. It was his team's first win since April 17, one that ended an agonizing seven-game losing streak. But was it enough to save Washington's job?

That is the question looming over Arlington during this six-game homestand for a team that has lost 16 of its first 24 games.

Even in victory, the Rangers fell behind by five runs for the fifth consecutive game and induced groans with more sloppy fielding, costly baserunning blunders and important at-bats gone awry. The winning rally was not without cost, as third baseman and cleanup hitter Hank Blalock pulled up lame and limped off with a hamstring injury after his one-out double put the winning run in scoring position.

In short, this team is not out of the woods yet, nor is its manager.

That much was made clear Friday, when Rangers owner Tom Hicks summoned team president Nolan Ryan and general manager Jon Daniels to a two-hour lunch meeting in Dallas to discuss the state of his team. Conspicuously absent from the guest list was Washington, who in 17 months on the job has enjoyed only one day with a winning record as Rangers manager.

Daniels, the GM who fired Buck Showalter and replaced him with Washington, would not divulge details of the meeting. But he conceded the talks covered everything "from top to bottom." He planned to discuss the meeting with Washington after Friday's game.

"Obviously, we're disappointed that we just haven't played well. But I'm not going to put that on any one player or person," Daniels said before the game. "You're not 7-16 and have one small issue."

Improving to 8-16, as the Rangers did when Murphy's two-out single off Juan Rincon (2-1) scored pinch-runner German Duran from second base, might not affect Hicks' mood much.

"Tom has been an owner for a long time now" -- since June 1998 -- "and he has been through a lot of ups and downs with different sports," Daniels said. "I think he understands the ebbs and flows of a season. That's not to say we're going to sit back and say, 'Ho Hum, we're in a bad stretch.' No, we've got to address it and we've got to get better. And I think that's something that everyone wearing a 'T' on their chest needs to cope with right now."

But not inviting the manager to Friday's meeting indicates more than the team's future is up in the air. When a reporter pointed out that Daniels has not denied Washington's job is in jeopardy, he said, "I haven't said it is, either."

"I don't get a nightly call from Tom saying, 'Here's the status of your job situation.' That's not how it works," Daniels said. "I think that's a question that's going to be asked of anybody in a leadership position when the team is struggling.

"He is our manager. I think everybody in our organization can do something to help us pull out of this -- he included, me included. He understands he's going to have to answer those questions, just like I've answered them myself."

When asked what, specifically, Washington can do to reverse the team's sagging fortunes, Daniels said, "That's a tough question to answer. I think everybody has got different ways of motivating guys. He's been trying. But [a start like this] gets old, because it happened last year.

"Some things you have to have patience with, and some things you have to address. I'm sure that Ron will continue to address things that are within his power. When a team struggles, I think, typically we look to the leadership of the team -- on and off the field -- to turn this thing around. That's on me; that's on Ron; that's on the leadership of the team on the field and in the clubhouse. It's on all of us."

Knowing one victory might not right the ship, Washington was reserved after the game.

"I'm very proud of the way we bounced back," he said. "We've been going through something the past week. We'll see where we go tomorrow."

Washington turns 56 on Tuesday, and before the game seemed to be at peace with the possibility that he might not be employed when he blows out his candles. His original two-year contract was extended last September through the 2009 season, but, then, Showalter also was signed through 2009 once. His exclusion from Friday's meeting had not gone unnoticed, but Washington handled the questions about his status with dignity.

"My focus is on the field," he said. "I'm the manager of the Texas Rangers, and we're not doing very well, and that's when the heat flies. I do the best I can, and I can't do anything else.

"I don't feel vulnerable. I'm a baseball man. I do the best I can do. The toughest thing is coming to the ballpark every day knowing you're better than you've been performing."

It looked as if it would be more of the same Friday, as the Rangers dug themselves an early 5-0 hole. Former American League Most Valuable Player Justin Morneau victimized Rangers starter Kevin Millwood with an RBI single in the first and a grand slam in the third. Just like that, Texas trailed by at least five runs for the fifth game in a row.

But this time the Rangers showed some pride and punch. They clawed back into contention with five runs in the bottom of the third off Twins starter Nick Blackburn. Even so, the inning could have been bigger, had Blalock and Botts not been thrown out at home plate and third base, respectively, for a rally killing double play.

In the eighth, there were more mistakes. First baseman Ben Broussard threw wildly for the Rangers' AL-worst 24th error in 24 games, giving the Twins a late baserunner Texas was fortunate to erase. And when Botts reached base on an error to lead off the bottom of the eighth, that potential game-winner was negated when Frank Catalanotto fouled out on a bunt attempt and Murphy hit into an inning-ending double play.

Millwood had rebounded from his poor start to gut his way through six innings, and four Texas relievers pitched a scoreless inning each to get to the decisive bottom of the 10th. Blalock's one-out double was followed by a Botts walk. Catalanotto took a called third strike for the second out, but Murphy drove an 0-1 pitch over the head of left fielder Delmon Young into the gap for the game-winning hit.

"Tonight was huge for us as a team," Millwood said. "Everybody's been miserable. Nobody was having fun. When it doesn't feel like a morgue in the dugout, it's a lot more fun."

In the end, it was only one game out of 162. Only the eighth happy ending for a team 24 games into the season. But its significance wasn't lost on anyone.

"It was a total team effort, and that's what we're going to need to turn things around," said shortstop Michael Young. "We just need to be playing better ball. We know we've got a lot of talented guys in here. It's a tough time for everybody right now, the manager included."

Ken Daley is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.