Surviving June swoon proves evolving Rangers are still in it

Posted Sunday, Jun. 30, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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lebreton Even here, stuck to the refrigerator door on my official Texas Rangers 2013 Schedule Magnet, the month of June loomed as a telling test for Ron Washington’s baseball team.

Contenders abounded. Daunting road trips awaited to Boston, Toronto, St. Louis and New York. A four-game set with division nuisance Oakland sat ominously in the middle of the month.

And then, as June began, the Rangers’ bats suddenly turned to toothpicks. It looked like last October, all over again.

When the clock ticked midnight Sunday, however, June came to a close, and all four wheels on the Rangers’ bandwagon were still intact.

The Rangers and Yu Darvish won 3-2 Sunday to take a weekend series from the Cincinnati Reds. The season rolls on.

The Rangers’ lead over the A’s is a half-game, with Seattle and Houston coming to town this week. More importantly, they’ve snapped out of whatever murk had engulfed them in mid-June.

As manager Washington said over the weekend, “We’re in this. No one should be doubting us.”

He’s right. If you can take your act to New York — and in baseball, to St. Louis — you can take it anywhere.

Unlike in the past three seasons, however, there’s an intriguing difference. Those Rangers bluntly laid their cards for all to see — notably, the bats of Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli, Michael Young’s veteran presence and, for one October, the great Cliff Lee.

But this team seems to be evolving and discovering itself with each passing week. Rookies have stepped up and, in the process, are growing up. The bullpen, thought to be a question mark in spring training, has emerged as one of the team’s dependable strengths.

Michael Young? Sure, his quiet leadership made its mark as the franchise transitioned into annual contender. But new clubhouse leaders have emerged. Veterans A.J. Pierzynski and Lance Berkman have quickly earned their new teammates’ respect.

This team is in good hands.

One pointed scene from Sunday’s victory was captured by the Fox Southwest TV crew. The dugout camera caught veteran Adrian Beltre, surrounded by several of the club’s Latino players, intently delivering an impromptu teaching lesson to Leonys Martin. The group was all ears.

There’s your new team captain. Beltre’s fiery spirit has stamped itself on the personality of this 2013 team.

With so many youngsters, they will make mistakes. Washington seems to have resigned himself to that. But better to have made the mistakes in June — and emerged in first place — than in September and October.

Young Martin’s emergence as an everyday outfielder was one of the highlights of the June roller coaster ride. Jurickson Profar, 20 years young, dazzled in his debut, struck a pothole, and seems to have regained both his confidence and his place in Washington’s lineup rotation.

And Engel Beltre, 23, has added even more energy — and speed — to that lineup.

The schedule magnet on the refrigerator suggests that the Rangers have survived the worst. The games of July and August don’t appear to be nearly the gauntlet that June was.

But the young Rangers may not know any better. And if last season taught the veterans anything, it’s that the season is 162 games long.

Somehow, they finished 14-14 for the month of June. The bats are resuscitated. Darvish has rebrandished his fastball.

And, hey, the Mariners and Astros are coming to town.

Like the manager said, the Rangers are in this.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton

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