Gil LeBreton

Rangers find true leaders in the clubhouse

Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder have provided a big part of the energy that has lifted the Texas Rangers into first place in the American League West.
Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder have provided a big part of the energy that has lifted the Texas Rangers into first place in the American League West. Star-Telegram

Sometimes, it takes a Pudge Rodriguez, fiery and proud.

Sometimes, it’s a Will Clark, whose demeanor simply refused to acknowledge defeat.

And sometimes in their past, what the Texas Rangers needed to secure their place in the postseason was just a humble leader, a Michael Young.

Different teams, different rosters. Different buttons that needed to be pushed.

First-year manager Jeff Banister didn’t need an owners manual to tell him that. The marketing department had branded him with a personal rallying cry, born of his own life’s experiences:

Never. Ever. Quit.

But slogans can lose their edge over the peaks and valleys of a baseball summer.

The new manager needed a leader, someone in uniform to lead his team out of the valleys.

He ended up finding two in Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder.

Behind Beltre’s and Fielder’s leadership, the Rangers continued their steamroller takeover of the American League West on Thursday night. The 8-2 victory made it a clean, four-game sweep of the Houston Astros, who had led the division for 139 days.

For four nights the Rangers thundered and plundered and pillaged everything the Houston Astros had in sight.

They hugged their home run hitters, rubbed the third baseman’s head playfully and showered one another with the water bucket leftovers.

The first-place Texas Rangers behaved, you might say, like drunken sailors.

Roll the video, boys. Cue the pirate song.

Did everyone catch the inside joke?

In March 2012, speaking at a stat-geek conference at MIT, new Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow pooh-poohed the Texas franchise’s international recruiting strategy and charged the Rangers with "spending like drunken sailors" in Latin America.

The line ruffled feathers – lightly, I’m told – and Luhnow even called Rangers GM Jon Daniels to apologize.

But a good line is hard to forget.

With each Rangers rally and home run over these past four nights, Rangers PA announcer extraordinaire Chuck Morgan fired up the old sea shanty that sings, What shall we do with a drunken sailor?, and the video board flashed a movie clip of deck-partying buccaneers.

Final score Thursday:

Drunken Sailors 8, Astros 2 – a four-game series sweep.

The Rangers’ magic number to clinch the division title, by the way, is 14.

“They lead them on the field with the way they play,” Banister said of Fielder and Beltre. “They lead them in the dugout, with how loose they are at the times when they need to be loose.

“And they lead them inside that clubhouse with the intensity level, vocally and physically, by how they play and the words they use.”

A first-time manager can preach his philosophy loudly. Or he can try to get his point across by being stoic and direct. But as the players know, unless the manager has the skins on the wall, the talk comes cheap.

Banister’s even-keel approach has fit his group well. But the wisest thing he realized was that, in the clubhouse, Beltre’s and Fielder’s voices carried farther.

“Beltre is the best pro I’ve ever been around,” Banister said. “And he’s probably the most hard-nosed player I’ve ever been around. But also balanced.

“Prince probably is one of the better teammates. Intense. He’s going to lead the charge. He’ll never be in the back of the room — I can promise you that.

“I think those two guys actually feed off each other.”

As a bench coach in Pittsburgh, Banister had only watched the two from a distance. But they quickly earned his appreciation.

“Beltre — I have a greater sense of what he means to the team and also to the game,” Banister said.

“Prince — I always respected the guy. Somewhat feared him over in Pittsburgh. To be around him every day, though, and see the dynamic of what a teammate he really is, it’s even more impressive.”

That dynamic was missing last season, as Fielder, injured, struggled and finally underwent season-ending neck surgery in June.

This season, he has reestablished himself as a .300 hitter and run producer. His two home runs Wednesday night gave him 21 for the season and were the highlights in a 14-3 victory over the Houston Astros.

The Rangers’ resurgence has been anything but sudden. It took a long, steadfast climb to overtake the Astros after once being 9   1/2 games behind.

For a first-time manager, the energy infusion has to come from within the clubhouse. Fielder and Beltre, who both seem to play the game with a kid’s enthusiasm, have seen to that.

“September makes you turn 13 all over again,” Banister said. “It’ll make you remember why you play this game, and why you fall in love with it, and just how fun it really is. It’s when the job part of it goes away.

“You saw that the other night with the excitement and grown men turning 12 and 13 all over again, hugging each other and just enjoying the moment.”

With two outs in the ninth inning Thursday, the red-clad crowd -- it was loud all week -- rose to its feet. Chants of “Sweep! Sweep! Sweep!” rang in the air.

The valleys of April and mid-July appear to be behind the Rangers.

Consider the buttons pushed.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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