MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Rangers reward Washington's loyalty

Rangers reward Washington's loyalty

Rangers reward Washington's loyalty

The Texas Rangers were dead in the water a couple of weeks ago, and you can look it up. They began September by losing 10 of 12. They went 2-4 on a trip through Oakland and Anaheim. They returned to Arlington to go 0-6 against the Pirates and A's.

If it had been one thing going wrong, Rangers manager Ron Washington could have attacked that. Only it wasn't. Some of his most dependable hitters stopped hitting. There wasn't enough starting pitching to stop the bleeding.

Amid the losing, there was the usual noise. One Fort Worth columnist recommended firing general manager Jon Daniels. Seriously? All Daniels has done is construct the greatest run -- three straight playoff appearances, including two trips to the World Series -- in franchise history.

Around the country, there was the widespread belief that a second straight bad September finish would cost Washington his job.

Tiebreaker

Amid all the noise, Washington reminded us that managers reveal far more of themselves in tough times. How do they deal with players? Do they blow their stack? Do they look like the pressure is getting to them?

How do they deal with reporters? Players pay attention to everything, and if the guy in charge looks like he's freaking out, that message is received loud and clear in the clubhouse.

Washington kept his cool. When asked about being fired, he said two things:

• I hope I've built up some credibility the last couple of years.

• Yes, I'm worried about my job.

But he never changed. He remained enthusiastic in the dugout. He said they were still "my players," and he believed in them as much as he had during the World Series years.

Among his many strengths as a manager, it's his close relationship with his players -- trust is a two-way street -- that has kept the Rangers going. The Rangers are a good reminder about the importance of playing out the string because you never know what can happen. If baseball has taught us anything the last three years, it's that.

Washington urged his guys to go hard all the way and see where it got them. If they needed help from another team, that was no big deal. All they could do is take care of their own business and hope they got some help.

The Rangers then went out and had one of their best weeks of the season, and just in the nick of time. They'd lost 15 of 20 in September when they beat the Astros, 12-0, on Monday. Looking back on it, maybe beating up on a bad team released something inside the Rangers.

Baseball seasons last for six months, and along the way, a team's strengths and weaknesses are generally exposed. Suddenly, the Rangers became who they should have been all along. They survived a close game against the Astros the night after the blowout and then won another laugher.

When the weekend began, though, they still trailed the Rays by two games and the Indians by one in the American League Wild Card race. If neither team stumbled, the Rangers were done.

The Rays stumbled against the Blue Jays. Twice. The Rangers had their opening. They finished a weekend sweep of the Angels with a 6-2 victory Sunday afternoon.

Now, riding a seven-game winning streak, they're tied with the Rays for the final AL Wild Card spot, and the two teams will settle it Monday night at the Ballpark in Arlington, airing at 8 p.m. ET on TBS.

Washington has gotten a terrific run of relief pitching -- one earned run in 20 2/3 innings. Joe Nathan closed three games in a row this weekend. Tanner Scheppers has worked four straight days for the first time in his career. Guys like Neal Cotts and Jason Frasor are contributing quality innings as well.

Offensively, it's not one guy. It's Craig Gentry having one of the great weeks of his young career, hitting .391. It's Alex Rios, who was picked up by Daniels after the non-waiver Trade Deadline, hitting .346 during Texas' 7-0 run. Ian Kinsler and Leonys Martin are right behind at .333. They'll have Nelson Cruz back from his 50-game suspension on Monday night.

The Rangers would be the first to tell you they haven't won anything. If they lose to the Rays, they still will have missed the playoffs for the first time in four years. But they're alive, and that didn't seem possible this time last week. We may never know what changed, how the Rangers suddenly rediscovered their magic.

They're not going to be asking any questions at this point. A year ago, they were bitterly disappointed when they lost the AL West on the final day of the season and were forced to host a Wild Card Game, which they lost to Baltimore.

Now the Wild Card berth looks like a great reward for their perseverance. If they end up in Cleveland on Wednesday for this year's Wild Card Game, they'll be thrilled. It's a funny game, isn't it?

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.