Call it Ron-Ball

By Jean-Jacques Taylor
Updated: October 23, 2010

ARLINGTON — A few minutes before batting practice began for the final game of the AL Championship Series, Ron Washington took one last long drag of his cigarette.

Then he explained why these Texas Rangers — his Rangers — weren’t the same old baseball team we’ve seen around Dallas-Fort Worth for much of the last 38 years.

“We’re building a new tradition. We aren’t doing anything fancy or anything new,” he said. “We’re just playing the game of baseball the right way.

“We’re playing the game the way I was taught to play. We’re playing the only way I know how to play.”

With every postseason triumph, the Rangers move further away from their irrelevant past.

History and tradition are important. It’s among the reasons, in addition to their billion-dollar payroll, that the Yankees are feared. But teams don’t have to be constrained by their past, as the Rangers have shown us.

Teams can create new history, but until they do they’re chained to the past.

From now on, we can end all chatter about pitchers being unable to succeed at The Ballpark. The same goes for questions about why the Rangers wilt each August.

No more questions about their lone playoff win or why they’ve never won a playoff series. And, most important, no more questions about what it feels like to be one of the three franchises never to have played in the World Series.

After the Rangers vanquished the vaunted Yankees in the ALCS , the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals and Seattle Mariners are the only clubs that have never played in the World Series.

It’s a new day for the Rangers because Jon Daniels was courageous enough to hire a first-time, African-American manager with an infectious personality and a passion for baseball.

And owner Nolan Ryan, then team president, had the foresight to retain Washington after the manager informed the club that he had failed a MLB-administered drug test last year.

And Washington had the conviction to play the style of baseball he knew would work once he convinced the players it gave them the best chance to win, especially on days they didn’t hit the ball out of the ballpark.

The Rangers’ style should look familiar.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim used it to win the 2002 World Series and make the playoffs six times in the last 11 years under Mike Scioscia, who’s considered among the better managers in the game.

Scioscia and Washington learned the nuances of pro baseball in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ organization — Scioscia over two decades, Washington briefly in the 1970s.

The Rangers take the extra base at every opportunity. They led American League in productive outs, which are those that advanced a runner.

Washington is forever talking about playing the game correctly and doing what the game asks you to do, which is another way of saying fundamentally sound teams win more often than they lose.

Occasionally, they take what they want.

Remember the sixth inning of Game 4? That was when Nelson Cruz tagged up from first base on a deep fly to center field, which persuaded the Yankees to walk David Murphy , because first base was open, and pitch to Bengie Molina, who hit a three-run homer as the Rangers took a 3-1 series lead.

That’s doing what the game asks you to do.

Remember the first inning of Game 2 ­ less than 24 hours after the Rangers somehow blew a 5-1 eighth-inning lead ­ when Washington called for a double steal?

Elvis Andrus swiped home, and the Rangers led 1-0 and rode that momentum to a victory, tying the series at 1-1.

That’s taking what you want.

“The truth of the matter is, when you see a team that never gives up, that was always attacking, attacking, attacking pitching-wise and hitting-wise — you just have to give it to them,” Mariano Rivera told The New York Times. “It wasn’t that we weren’t trying to do our jobs. They just beat us.”

Now, it’s on to the World Series.

But Washington’s style of baseball and the Rangers’ new history is here to stay.