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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Rangers keep even keel amid struggles

Justice: Rangers keep even keel amid struggles

Rangers keep even keel amid struggles
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers were in a tailspin. At least by their own high standards, they were in a tailspin. They'd lost six of 10 and hadn't scored more than three runs in three straight games. Their lead in the American League West held firm at five games, but how many pebbles does it take to start an avalanche?

How about it, Ron Washington? Panic? Tension? Time for a clubhouse meeting? How about turning the food table over? That almost always snaps 'em out of it. Come on, Wash, give us something we can use.

"There's no reason to panic, especially when you know you've got a good club," he said.

Yes, the Rangers lead the American League in runs, home runs and a handful of other offensive numbers. But in the last two weeks, they'd lost two of three in Seattle and two in a row to the Royals. For a few days, they no longer had the American League's best record.

There's something so boring about teams that simply punch the clock every day and focus on what's right in front of them, not what's behind them or six weeks ahead of them.

"You just have to continue to play baseball," Washington said. "That's our mindset. We've been there before. There'll never be panic, and there will never be any frustration. Yes, you get upset. But when you start to get frustrated, it snowballs. These guys show up every day to be the best they can be on that day. Some days, it works. Some days, it doesn't."

Baseball seasons have twists and turns, ups and downs. Every team has tough times. The really good teams just keep going, grinding out at-bats and games, staying focused on doing things right.

No team has done that better than the Rangers in winning back-to-back American League pennants. There's an intangible something in their clubhouse that is some mix of talent and leadership and the confidence to ride through the highs and lows.

"It's a good attitude to have," said designated hitter Michael Young, the leader and senior member of the group. "I wouldn't confuse it with complacency. We don't sit there and say, `Ah, it's okay. Tomorrow's a new day.' You have to work hard and attack the things you know you can get better at. That's an ongoing process."

That attitude was evident Saturday afternoon when they rallied from two runs down in the bottom of the 13th inning against Toronto, finally winning on Josh Hamilton's two-run walk-off home run.

Afterward, their clubhouse looked the same as it always looks, with guys treating it like another day at the office, feeling good, but already preparing for the next one. And that's how it was Sunday afternoon when the Rangers finished a three-game sweep of the Blue Jays with a 12-6 victory.

There were contributions from up and down the deepest lineup in baseball, including home runs from Ian Kinsler, Andre Beltre and Mike Napoli. The Rangers scored seven runs in the second inning and cruised from there.

For the weekend, they rediscovered their magic, outscoring Toronto 34-16 and pushing their record to 30-18, once more the best in the American League. Been there, done that.

"That's the way we've been for three years," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "We're the same group. We haven't changed. We can't let things bother us."

When opposing teams consider pitching around Hamilton the way teams once pitched around Barry Bonds, they have to consider the Rangers have stars lined up in front of and behind him.

Beltre, who hits behind Hamilton, is hitting .318 and on a pace for 34 home runs. The guy behind him, Young, is a former batting champion.

"The guys who hit behind Hamilton are stars," Washington said. "Being in those situations doesn't affect them. I'm fortunate. I'm not hesitant about letting any of them hit up there in that situation."

Young began the weekend hitting just .267 after an 18-game stretch in he batted .179. But he, too, got it going with a 7-for-15 weekend that got him back to .282. He never blinked when the hits began falling again.

"Through the course of a long season, you find yourself with stretches when things don't go your way," Young said. "You battle through those things. In the end, you're better for it."

There are so many games left that it's silly to make too much of one game or one week or one season. But teams reveal bits and pieces about themselves along the way in how they handle the good and the bad. The Rangers long ago showed themselves to be tough physically and even tougher mentally.

"There are a lot of guys who've played a long time here," Napoli said. "We all help each other out here. That's what's good about our clubhouse."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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