Rangers' chemistry helps them fight back
Texas takes finale of set vs. Angels, holds 4 1/2 game lead
ANAHEIM -- Michael Young understands the fragile psyches of fans. He didn't need to be told there were growing concerns deep in the hearts of Texans as the Angels -- these remodeled Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson Angels -- rose from their April slumber and began making threatening noises.
Victories in the first two games of a June weekend series at Angel Stadium presented manager Mike Scioscia's troupe with the opportunity on Sunday for a sweep that would shave the Rangers' American League West lead to 2 1/2 games.
Drawing on its inner reserves and deep resources, Texas muzzled Pujols in the game's most compelling moment and went on to whack his new club, 7-3. The lead is 4 1/2-games.
"I'm a fan," said Young, who grew up in the Los Angeles area cheering for the local teams but has become attached to the Cowboys since his Raiders returned for Oakland. "I watch the Lakers and Cowboys, and they lose, and there's a beer on the floor, some chips on the floor. I'm not happy.
"So I can take a step back and see how they feel about us. Our fans are emotionally invested in us, and we certainly appreciate that. They're all in. But there's a difference. It's easier for us because we can control it and move forward."
The Rangers took control on Sunday, but not until Dan Haren managed to string out their weekend frustration by stranding seven runners in five innings. The Rangers led 2-1 when Haren, his pitch count at 104, departed.
It would have been tied, if Pujols at first base had handled a one-hopper by Young that scooted past his back hand for a two-out, run-scoring single in the fifth. It brought home Ian Kinsler, who'd doubled leading off the inning.
"It's tough to see on the corners here in the daylight, on a bright day like this," Young said. "That's a tough play for Albert. He's holding the runner [Adrian Beltre] on, and he doesn't expect a right to hit a ball like that."
Young's second hit, a line-drive single to left, would be followed by a monstrous home run by Nelson Cruz in the seventh against Bobby Cassevah for a 5-2 lead. Given the 3-0 green light by manager Ron Washington, Cruz launched it an estimated 484 feet -- longest of the season and 11th longest since 2006 according to ESPN STATS & INFO.
"That's the farthest I've seen in this park," said Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus, who made dazzling plays deep in the hole, robbing Erick Aybar and Mark Trumbo, behind starter Matt Harrison and reliever Mike Adams. "Nelson and Josh [Hamilton] and Beltre are the only ones who can do it."
The Angels have some guys who also can go very deep -- Pujols, Mark Trumbo, Kendrys Morales, Torii Hunter. Pujols had a crack at turning it around in the bottom of the seventh, but reliever Alexi Ogando retired him on a pop fly to left to leave the bases loaded and preserve a two-run lead. Peter Bourjos' two-out single ignited the rally, Mike Trout driving home Bourjos.
"I don't know what Ogando was feeling," Washington said of Pujols' presence in that situation. "I certainly wasn't feeling good. He made a pitch and got the out."
This is shaping up as the heavyweight collision everyone imagined through the winter and spring.
"They're a good team," said Cruz, heating up with homers in four of his past nine games and 23 RBIs in the past 24 games. "It's not going to be easy for us. We just have to stay focused and take care of business. You're going to have your ups and downs."
The Rangers held a meeting following Saturday night's exasperating loss, reminding one another of who they are, as Washington put it.
"Wash does a good job of making sure the players take care of everything," Young, the competitive face of the franchise, said. "He knows the guys in here are going to handle stuff. Our veteran guys have been unbelievable keeping things together here.
"Chemistry is having a bunch of guys who believe in the same cause. It doesn't have to be a bunch of choir boys. We have a lot of different personalities here. This is a classic example. We have guys from all over the U.S., different countries -- Latin America, Japan -- and there are no cliques. Everyone hangs out together."
The Rangers have made wise choices in the veterans -- Beltre, Mike Napoli, Joe Nathan -- brought into the mix.
"It's important to have that strong leadership we have, to know the clubhouse belongs to the players," Young said. "We've had that continuity, with a lot of the same guys for a long stretch.
"We don't care how many games we're up. All we care about is our style of baseball -- aggressive base running, have good at-bats one through nine, pitchers attacking the zone and keeping us in the game."
It is their confident nucleus that enables the Rangers to come back so strong after a World Series experience amateur psychologists figured would cause them to come undone. Being one out, one strike from a championship and watching it get away in St. Louis was taxing, to put it mildly, on the Metroplex faithful.
"We don't take the World Series as a negative," Young said. "We played our [fannies] off. The Cardinals executed and beat us. We're all proud of what we accomplished. We had a team worthy of being world champs and did everything we could to make it happen. There's no need for us to be disappointed."
October in the distant rearview mirror, the Rangers forge on, excited by the adventures that await.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.