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Playing without fear helps Rangers draw even with Cardinals


ST. LOUIS -- This is what they do. This is how they play.

And this, much more than Esteban German pinch-hitting in the seventh inning with the game on the line, is what Ron Washington is about as a manager.

Tony La Russa is known for his sometimes puzzling, sometimes genius and sometimes not mid-inning pitching changes.

Ron Washington is known (or should be) for running a team that plays without fear, and a team that never stops trying to push the envelope. Sometimes it doesn't work.

Thursday, it won perhaps the biggest game of the World Series.

"We play on the edge a little," third-base coach Dave Anderson said, after the Rangers pushed their way to two ninth-inning runs and a series-tying 2-1 Game 2 win over the Cardinals. "It's what we do. Watch for Game 3."

Or just re-watch the ninth inning of Game 2, the inning that could end up defining the Rangers' season, or even the entirety of Washington's career.

This is how they play:

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They leave a green light on for Ian Kinsler, who follows his leadoff single in the ninth with a barely-made-it steal of second. They follow that with an Elvis Andrus single that sends Kinsler to third, and when Albert Pujols botches the relay throw, an aware Andrus scoots to second base.

They force La Russa into a series of questionable and ultimately unsuccessful pitching changes, and they end up with back-to-back sacrifice flies to first tie the game and then go ahead.

Is that all Washington? No, of course it isn't.

In fact, Washington flashed a bunt sign rather than a steal with Kinsler on first. But Kinsler is free to run on his own, unless he gets a stop sign, and Washington chose not to stop him.

The Rangers had been cautious with their running game through the first 17 innings of the series. They hadn't attempted a true steal (Kinsler was thrown out in Game 1 on a missed hit-and-run), because Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina has such a strong arm.

But the Rangers also knew that Cardinals closer Jason Motte is slow to the plate. With Motte on the mound, they knew Kinsler had a chance.

The Rangers players also knew that when there's a chance, the manager doesn't mind them trying for it.

"This is what we do," Washington said. "If it costs us, we live with that. That's the way we play."

They play aggressively. They play without fear.

And when it works the way it did Thursday, it's beautiful to watch.

"[Kinsler] got on second base, and he changed the game," Andrus said. "We're not going to be afraid. We're not going to stop being aggressive on the bases."

It really is the way they play, and that's as big a part of managing (bigger really) than deciding which pinch-hitter to use. The Rangers weren't happy that Washington was roasted from coast to coast for choosing German over Yorvit Torrealba in the seventh inning of Game 1, but they can be just as comfortable that it was his style of play that led to their win in Game 2.

"The first thing I explained to them when we got [to St. Louis] was that we're not going to force anything, but we're still going to play our game."

It doesn't always work. It almost didn't work in the ninth. Molina's throw to second was a great one, and the tag was just a split-second late.

"I mean, my hand just barely got in there," Kinsler said. "Yadier made an unbelievable throw, quick, on the money, and I was just able to get my hand in there."

When Andrus followed with a single, Kinsler thought he could score, but the ball got to center fielder Jon Jay quickly, and Anderson held Kinsler at third. And when Pujols failed to cut the throw off, Andrus took advantage by taking second base.

The Rangers had runners at second and third with no one out, and La Russa had a big decision. For maybe the first time this postseason, he made the wrong call.

With the injury-hobbled Josh Hamilton at the plate, La Russa could have had the hard-throwing Motte pitch to Hamilton. With first base open, he could have walked Hamilton and allowed the right-handed Motte to pitch to a string of right-handed hitters.

Instead, he chose to have lefty Arthur Rhodes face Hamilton, who responded with a game-tying sacrifice fly that allowed Andrus to take third.

La Russa was left with Lance Lynn (maybe his fourth-best reliever) to pitch to Michael Young, whose sacrifice fly gave the Rangers the only other run they would need.

Did Washington beat La Russa? No more than La Russa beat Washington in Game 1.

But it is safe to say that the aggressive style of play that Washington teaches and encourages allowed the Rangers to get back in this World Series.

"That's the way we play," he said again.

That's the way they won Game 2. By sometime next week, we may be saying that's the way they won the World Series.


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