Rangers in a league all their own
ARLINGTON -- The Texas Rangers won the last two American League pennants. Since then, if neither the eyes nor the AL standings are deceived, they have actually improved.
The news from the Rangers is not good -- for the other 13 teams in the league. The sample size is small, but that is hardly the fault of the Rangers. After 21 games, they are 16-5. They entered Saturday night second in the AL in runs scored, but also second in team earned run average. There is only one place for a team with that kind of balance: First.
The Rangers had lost to the Tampa Bay Rays, 8-4, Friday night, on a rare down evening. All this meant was that the Rangers weren't likely to lose Saturday night. And they didn't, winning 7-2, remaining the only team in the Majors not to lose consecutive games this season.
Did we mention that the Texas defense is also stellar? It was again Saturday night that Texas starter Colby Lewis stretched his record to 3-0, and lowered his ERA to 1.93.
In a 2-1 game in the sixth, the Rays had one on and no outs when Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria hit a shot up the middle. It looked to be ticketed for center field, but shortstop Elvis Andrus ranged far to his left. Not only did he field the ball, but in one motion he flipped it to second base, starting a double play and instantly turning a one-on, nobody-out situation into a two-out, nobody-on situation.
"It wasn't as easy as he made it look, you know what I'm saying?" Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "It was a tough play, but he's done it before."
Washington added that for him, Andrus' greatest play was a similar but even more difficult, diving play up the middle in the 2011 World Series.
Saturday night, there was more on the Rangers' highlight reel. One inning after Andrus' play, with a 3-1 score, David Murphy made back-to-back outstanding plays in left. First he covered considerable ground to make a running catch in the corner off Elliot Johnson. Then he made a leaping grab against the wall on a drive by Jose Molina.
"We play defense. It's something that we respect, something that we take pride in," Washington said. "And we have the guys out there who have the ability to do just that [play defense]. I'm not surprised by anything they do out there. You put it in the air, if it's got a hump in it, it's coming down in the glove. You put it on the ground if they can get to it, it's going to be thrown to the first baseman. We're human, we're going to make mistakes, but we take pride in our defense. It revolves around all of them and they work at it every day."
And with the bats? When the Rays walked Josh Hamilton intentionally in the seventh, Adrian Beltre provided the ultimate response with a three-run homer that essentially put the game out of reach.
All in all, this game was like a condensed version of the best of the Rangers. And the Rangers' best is beginning to look like something that might be on a level all by itself.
When Washington was asked what impressed him about his ballclub, he responded:
"Three words: They can play.
"They love to play baseball. They can play baseball. And they just go out there and play. The most important thing is, they are very good at dealing with today. That's what makes them impressive. They can play for today.
"We're just as good a team as any team out there, I think I've made that statement. The key for us is to stay healthy. If we stay healthy, we're going to play. I don't know if we're going to go 30-8. I don't know what's going to happen. The only thing we care about, though, is just today. We are confident that that we can play with anybody. We are very good at staying in the moment and the moment is today."
It is good to see that this kind of excellence is drawing appropriately large crowds for the Rangers. Saturday night's attendance was a season-high 49,157. This was the fifth consecutive sellout for the Rangers; a franchise record. The Rangers have earned this support in the purest way possible, with a level of play that deserves to be seen and appreciated.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.