Fateful Game 6 only serves to motivate Texas
Ron Washington, manager of the Texas Rangers, sums up the offseason media view of his team in this way:
"I certainly didn't read things before the season that the Texas Rangers were given a chance to do anything. I know that we weren't advertised to be able to do anything. You know, Game 6 was supposed to kill us."
Ah, Game 6. There was some media speculation floating around to the effect that no team could fully recover from what happened to the Rangers in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. Twice in that game the Rangers were one strike away from winning the whole thing. But it turned out that Game 6, and one game later, the championship, belonged to the St. Louis Cardinals.
So far you'd have to say that speculation was much closer to fiction than it was to fact. The 2012 Rangers, even after a difficult loss in Toronto Tuesday night, are 17-7. That is the best record in the American League.
This is a club that does not appear to be suffering from a bad case of World Series dejection. This is a club that appears to be playing even better than its two pennant-winning predecessors.
This is a club, in other words, that is not using that 2011 World Series as a reason for self-pity. This is a club that is using the whole experience as motivation.
How does that happen? What is the difference between making a painful experience a reason to get better, instead of a reason to feel down?
"Belief in what we have here," Washington says. "Belief in ourselves. The biggest thing is belief. Valuing yourself. Being treated with love and respect is valuing yourself. We value ourselves."
Those intangible qualities are terrific, but in this instance, they are accompanied by a manager with a message. Washington was not about to let anybody outside the Rangers family set the emotional agenda for his club. He came to Spring Training telling his club that nobody else had earned the right to tell them how to feel about Game 6, or what was going to happen next.
"The one thing I did tell [the players] in Spring Training was that we were not going to let any outside sources come up in here and tell us how we were supposed to feel," Washington says. "We could feel the way we wanted to feel, not how they feel we should feel. That was the impression I got from the outside -- people were going to tell us how to feel about losing Game 6.
"I wasn't going to let them come up in here and plant anything. I nipped that in the bud. Day one. So it never became a problem.
"I was not going to let these guys get caught up in anything. I wasn't going to let it happen. They're too good. That was me. I had what I wanted to say done about two months before I arrived at Spring Training. Because I was hearing things about Game 6. That was their opinion. That was not the Texas Rangers.
"And I flat cut it off. You ain't telling us how to feel. You ain't telling us how we're supposed to feel, because you weren't in the dugout, you weren't on the field, you weren't in the clubhouse. So how can you tell us how we were supposed to feel? You're on the outside looking in. I think I got a better grasp of it on the inside."
So what has made the Rangers mentally strong enough to avoid the emotional pitfalls of their World Series loss? What has given them the ability to shut out the heavy dose of negativity associated with last October and simply focus time after time on today and today's game?
Washington smiles, raises his hand and says:
"Their skipper. I'll take it. They listen to their skipper. If I run around here all willy-nilly, then they can run around all willy-nilly. But if I stay focused on what's at hand then they stay focused on what's at hand.
"It's the big picture. It's not what went wrong. Game 6 went wrong. Game 7 went wrong. But to have another opportunity you have to go through the big picture, which is the season. And we have the personnel to accomplish that. If we have other things on our mind, something is going to distract us, and we don't need to be distracted. So we toe the company line. It's today. Today.
"This is only Ron Washington's take on it. There's not a lot of people who [care] what Ron Washington thinks."
But as long as the 25 men inside the Texas clubhouse are still listening to Ron Washington, then he has the one audience a manager must have.
"The only thing I'm taking credit for is the attitude that my team has," Washington says. "The rest of it is my team.
"I just got a good group, man. They love to play baseball. I love to watch them play, because I got a deep passion for the game, too. I just can't play no more, but I sure would like to."
This Rangers team is a remarkable combination of imposing talent and the right attitude. No, Game 6 is not killing them. It is more likely providing them with another reason to win.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.