It’s time for Rangers to swashbuckle, but they’re losing their edge

Posted Tuesday, Sep. 10, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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lebreton The Pirates are in town. The home team is getting plundered.

For the Texas Rangers, the timing couldn’t be worse. Their lead in the American League West has been squandered. Their starting pitching is in a rut.

The offense had hit such a drought that when Joey Butler finally touched home plate in Tuesday’s fifth inning — the Rangers’ first run in 15 innings — he was heard to utter, “That’s one small step for man ...”

OK, maybe he really didn’t say that. But he should have.

On the heels of a 2-4 road trip, after Tuesday’s 5-4 defeat the Texas Rangers have dropped two in a row to the Pittsburgh Pirates. They have now lost five of their last six games and eight of their last 11.

This is awful timing. Since the middle of August, when they led the division by two games over Oakland, the Rangers have lost series to the Mariners, White Sox, Twins, Athletics, Angels and now the Pirates.

One team Tuesday night battled like a playoff contender, buoyed as if it was enjoying the ride of its first winning season in 21 years.

The other continues to drift along, as if it was lost on one of those Carnival Cruise trips.

Hitting slumps abound. Home runs have vanished. Whatever aggressiveness the Rangers displayed in August, when they regained the division lead with a 20-7 record, they’ve followed by falling back into their old habit of wasting at-bats.

In the 10 games before Tuesday, the Rangers batted .171 with runners in scoring position.

But the answer has been right there in front of them. The Rangers need to do what football coach Mike Leach used to urge his Texas Tech teams to do — swing their swords. Play like pirates, both the lower-case ones and the 83-win ones.

In his oft-cited autobiography, Leach told the story of how he became That Coach That Thinks He’s a Pirate. It was 2003 and the Red Raiders had just lost at Missouri.

Leach brought a shiny, 3-foot sword into the team meeting room the next day, regaling the squad with a brief history of the skull and crossbones set.

The message, Leach explained: Keep a clear head. Don’t duck or be timid. Be smart. Swing your sword as if you know what you’re doing with it.

Just as Clint Hurdle’s Pittsburgh Pirates have done over the past two nights.

In the continuing scarcity of a home run threat, the Rangers have reminded us just how difficult it has become for them to score runs. Feisty base running and strategic bunting mean little when a team can’t get more than two men on base in any inning.

In other months of this season, small rallies would blossom behind a home run by Adrian Beltre or Nelson Cruz.

Alas, Cruz is suspended and Beltre remains in a bedeviled slump. He was 6 for 38 (.158) over the 10 games before Tuesday night. And for the second night in a row, with runners in scoring position in late innings, Beltre instead made the final out.

Without a home run option to fall back on, the Rangers have found runs hard to come by against the likes of Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano.

But it’s getting far too late in the season to be “tipping your hat” to opposing pitchers.

In a September pennant race, true contenders swing their swords, not tip their hats.

It might be time for manager Ron Washington to hold another team meeting.

I suggest bringing a big, silver cutlass. Hold the parrot.

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

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