ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- As amazing as it may seem to those who don't know these Texas Rangers, the American League West champions are capable of winning games without the long ball, even through they have never won a postseason game without one.
Their 8-6 victory Saturday in Game 2 of the American League Division Series included one homer, an eighth-inning solo shot by Mitch Moreland, but the heavy lifting was done without a ball even getting to the warning track.
That's nothing new the past few seasons, and manager Ron Washington prefers it that way. He embraced every home run hit in the regular season -- only one team in the majors hit more than their 210 -- but he believes that the Rangers' offense is at its best when it reacts to what the game is giving it.
The Rangers haven't always done it that way since Washington took over in 2007. But they are doing it regularly now after starting to trend that way in 2009, and their commitment to situational hitting is a big reason for their successful runs the past two seasons.
"We want to be a well-rounded offense," said David Murphy, who joined the Rangers in August 2007. "There are so many positive things you can do offensively. The more of those things that you have in your bag and the more versatile you are, the better off you're going to be."
"You want to be able to use the long ball when you can. You want to be able to hit the ball in the gap when you can. But it's also great when you're a team that's capable of being able to hit-and-run in the right situation or just being able to move a runner."
Game 3 is scheduled for 4:07 p.m. today at Tropicana Field. Colby Lewis faces David Price in a rematch of a June 1 game in which Lewis allowed three hits in eight scoreless innings in a 3-0 victory.
The key play for the Rangers' offense wasn't a homer, but an eighth-inning double steal that preceded a two-run seeing-eye ground single by Elvis Andrus.
Four months later, after being shut down early Saturday by Tampa Bay ace James Shields, the Rangers made a winning adjustment when they stopped chasing a changeup that had dived out of the strike zone in the first three innings.
They took pitches, including two that hit them, and benefited from two wild pitches in a five-run fourth that erased a 3-0 deficit. Mike Napoli's two-run game-tying single came after he took three consecutive balls to open the at-bat.
"We've done it all year," Napoli said. "We scrap away at runs, and we play good team baseball and we all do it together. We do good things. And that inning showed. We all did it together, and put some good at-bats together and got it done."
A pinch-hit sacrifice bunt and another hit batsman became key plays in the sixth inning before Ian Kinsler doubled in two runs. That was the Rangers' first extra-base hit after opening the game with eight singles.
It's not always like that. The Rangers' previous victory, the regular-season finale, was won strictly via the long ball. Napoli produced all three runs with two homers, including a two-out, two-run shot in the ninth inning of a 3-2 victory.
The Rangers had four players with at least 29 homers, a feat that not even the Juan Gonzalez-led teams of the 1990s or the Alex Rodriguez-led clubs in the early 2000s could accomplish.
But they were fifth in the AL in sacrifice bunts (39) and sixth in sacrifice flies (49), and stole the fifth-most bases in the majors (143) and struck out the fewest times (930).
"We know that good things can happen when you put the ball in play," Murphy said.
The change in approach has been aided by a change in personnel. At the forefront is Andrus, who was a rookie in 2009. Kinsler is one of the poster boys of Washington's philosophy, which isn't anything new in baseball but was something largely new to the Rangers.
"In the third year we started coming around," Washington said. "I know there was a lot of crying about us making all these outs and trying to do this and trying to do that. But I had the talent to try to allow that to happen. Then, last year, the talent started coming around."
Said Kinsler, who led the Rangers with 121 runs: "As an offense we are not too worried about how we are scoring runs. We just want to score runs any way we can. As long as we're scoring runs, we're happy."
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760