After four defeats in a row, two feeble nights against the Toronto Blue Jays and a hitting drought that threatened to reach franchise record proportions, it was time Sunday for the veterans in the Texas Rangers clubhouse to call a meeting.
No manager, no coaches. Just the hitters, not the pitchers.
When your lineup hasn’t had an extra-base hit the entire series, and when you wake up Sunday morning and discover that you’re closer in the standings to the Astros than to the Oakland Athletics, you close the clubhouse doors before the game and you let Adrian Beltre do most of the talking.
“It wasn’t like we had a meeting and figured everything was just going to turn around,” shortstop Elvis Andrus explained. “It was more just a chance to be together and say a few things. There was a lot of negativity going around.”
Negativity from where exactly, Elvis was asked?
“From everybody,” he said. “There were just a lot of bad things coming from the outside, where we realized that if we don’t pull together and stay together, it was going to be tough.”
Nine innings later, the Rangers’ losing streak was over and they had scored — gasp! — six runs. The 6-2 victory over Toronto may not have U-turned their season, but it did show that — for one afternoon, at least — they still know how to find home plate.
The Rangers began the day averaging just 3.9 runs a game, fourth-fewest in the American League. And only the Kansas City Royals have fewer home runs.
When asked about the hitters-only meeting, Rangers manager Ron Washington dryly observed, “It was nice that they decided to have a conversation among themselves.”
Washington knows. Sometimes it works, but as baseball traditions go, the closed-door team meeting can often be a poorly played trump card. Some slumping teams have too many of them. Others tend to be a lot of sound and fury, ultimately accomplishing nothing.
“We have to stay together,” Andrus said of Sunday’s one. “That was the main word for us.
“Don’t try to be a hero. Don’t put any extra pressure on yourself. Trust your teammates. Just do your job and do what you’re capable of doing.”
According to Elvis, he and fellow veterans Beltre and Alex Rios had a prominent presence at the meeting. Of particular concern, Andrus said, were the many young hitters in the Rangers clubhouse, who maybe have never had to weather a hitting drought like this.
There was no sense worrying about Friday’s and Saturday’s losses to the Blue Jays. No need, said Elvis, to worry about whether or when first baseman Prince Fielder is going to return to the lineup.
“We all have to keep doing our plan,” Andrus said. “We can’t be worried about the future or what’s happened in the past.
“Stay in the present. Believe in the process. That’s what we need to continue to do.”
Admittedly, facing Toronto’s R.A. Dickey and his dancing knuckleball did not loom as the best of options for busting out of a slump. For the first seven innings Sunday, in fact, the Rangers managed to get just two balls out of the infield.
“Whoever says it’s easy to hit fly balls against that guy is lying,” Andrus reported.
Mitch Moreland, however, subbing at first base for the injured Fielder, was able to swat a Dickey knuckler barely over the right-field wall. Dickey was soon yanked, and then the Rangers broke the game open in the ninth off the Toronto bullpen.
“We’ve just got to keep grinding and pretty soon what we are will come to the surface,” manager Washington said.
What the Rangers are, indeed, remains to be seen. They began Sunday seven games out of first place and still with 13 players on the disabled list.
For now, though, it was meeting adjourned. Fingers crossed. Teammates reassured.
Time will tell if it was just talk.