Rangers vow to forget 2011 season's end
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- When the Rangers gathered as a team for the first time since Game 7 of the World Series, manager Ron Washington went right to work burying the past.
"It's time to close the book on last season," he said simply.
That's the challenge the Rangers have in 2012. Few teams have endured as painful an ending as the one Washington's team endured in 2011.
They suffered the kind of ending that can eat away at a team's soul and linger in hearts and minds. The Rangers were twice one lousy strike from winning the World Series. They were on the top step of their dugout prepared to celebrate Game 6 when the thing got away from them.
The Cardinals rallied to win it, and then came from behind again in Game 7. Afterward, the Rangers stood dazed in front of their lockers attempting to find the right words.
To lose a World Series is one thing. To lose it the way the Rangers lost it, after being close enough to taste it and feel it and know how wonderful it was going to be, is the kind of thing that can haunt an organization.
"I'm not going to lie," outfielder David Murphy said. "When I see the highlights, and when I really think hard about Game 6, it makes me a little sick to my stomach."
Still, the Rangers say the past really is past, that they're not going to let the Cardinals beat them twice.
"I think it took a couple of weeks to let everything process and just get over it," designated hitter Michael Young said. "The last thing you want to do is sit there and say, `I'm good, I'm good, I'm good' and never really get over it. You've got to give yourself some time."
In that first meeting this week, Washington said the focus had to be on looking ahead and on putting 2011 in the past. He said the challenge would have been the same win or lose.
"We're not going to have a hangover," he said. "We're still hungry. More than that we're confident we can play baseball. We'll show up everyday in 2012 and take each day for what it offers and try to be the best we can that day. Everything else will take care of itself. We're not thinking about what happened in 2010 and 2011."
There are a long list of reasons the Rangers could be fine. First, there's talent. They've got essentially the same offense that finished third in runs in the Major Leagues in 2011.
They're also confident their rotation will be very good despite the loss of C.J. Wilson's 16 victories and 223 innings. They invested $110 million in 25-year-old Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish, and believe former closer Neftali Feliz has a chance to be a dominant starter.
"I'm not a 10- or 15-year veteran," Murphy said, "but for the time I've been around this game and for as much as I know about the game of baseball, I appreciate Game 6 for what it was. It was an incredible World Series. We competed at the highest level. We brought everything we had. We didn't get it done. It was heartbreaking, but 2012 is a new year."
General manager Jon Daniels has done a brilliant job assembling talent and constructing an organization built to last. Just as important as the talent he has collected is the work ethic and competitive fire of the group.
Daniels hasn't just gotten the right kind of talent. He has gotten the right kind of people. The Rangers were bitterly disappointed after losing the 2010 World Series to the Giants, but that one lasted just five games.
"We're still very motivated," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "We're very competitive. This year's a completely different year than last year. Just because we went to the last two World Series doesn't lessen our odds of going to the World Series this year. We have to prove ourselves again, and that's the beautiful thing about this game."
When the Rangers showed up for spring training last year, team president Nolan Ryan said he was thrilled to see that his players were as hungry as ever to win. There's a sense in the clubhouse that nothing has changed .
"That's what I'm really proud of," Daniels said. "The people we have. The culture we have. They enjoy being with one another. We celebrate our successes, but we don't spend a lot of time on it. By the same token, we don't get too low when things don't go our way."
Right in the middle of it all is Washington, who is instantly likable, painfully honest and has just the right personality for a nine-month season with all its peaks and valleys.
"He sets just the right tone," Daniels said. "It's very much one day at a time, focus on what we need to get done."
His players know he cares about them. They see it in his impromptu dugout celebrations during good times and in the way he supports them in tough times.
"Every player knows where he stands with Wash," Young said. "There's a trust factor that can't be underestimated."
Young is the only everyday player older than 32, and four of them are still in their 20s. Likewise, the starting rotation has just one player, Colby Lewis, 32, who has celebrated a 30th birthday.
To stroll through their clubhouse is to see a group that enjoys one another and has fun. But as Young said, "Around 6 o'clock, the mood changes. When it time to go to work, we go to work."
The Angels are improved. So are the Tigers and Yankees. The Red Sox and Rays are plenty good enough to win.
The American League appears to have as many really good teams as any time in recent years, but the team that has won back-to-back pennants still feels pretty good about itself.
"I never realized how big of a role that chemistry played until I actually was part of a team with such great chemistry," Murphy said. "Guys root for each other. They care more about the team than themselves."
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.