Rangers' Washington manages in Worldly ways

Posted: October 28, 2011

ST. LOUIS - "I'm not as dumb as people think I am," Texas manager Ron Washington said the other day, completing for you the uncanny parallel evident the first time you heard him talk baseball, the first time you saw him chat up one of his players, the first time you saw him excitedly peppering his bench coach as the game played out.

He is Charlie Manuel. The groovy version.

The distinctive dialect, the misuse of verb tense, the answers that reduce complex questions into simple axioms. Ron's from New Orleans, not the rolling hills of West Virginia. But the battle to become a major leaguer, the tiny taste that battle earned, the lessons learned along the way and the humanity of his governance connects him to the Phillies manager in an apparent and undeniable way.

Like Manuel, Washington repeatedly references the game of baseball as if it is a person, or more accurately, a deity.

"I am going to manage this game according to the way the game says I have to manage," Washington said before the Rangers' heartbreaking Game 6 loss to the Cardinals, 10-9, in 11 innings last night that tied the series at three games apiece.

So there he was, faced with one of those decisions that define managers, sometimes for the rest of their career. Leading by 4-3, with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth inning, Washington allowed starting pitcher Colby Lewis to hit. Given that Cardinals manager Tony La Russa was already two innings into his bullpen, given that Lewis surrendered two hits and a run against the first four batters he faced, it was hard to believe the game was whispering anything of the sort in his ear.

But Lewis went to the plate, struck out meekly, then retired the Cardinals in order in the fifth. And when a swinging bunt and an error on a doubleplay ball in the sixth again put Lewis on the ropes, Wash strolled out to the mound as if to replace him . . . and left him in again.

"I do a lot by my gut," Washington had said earlier in the week. "I do a lot by the way the game is flowing, who's doing what, how he's doing during the course of a game when I make a decision on who I want to move, who I want to bring in. It's just the flow of the game. And I'm in the flow of the game."

Apparently even the game has its limits, though. And when Lewis walked David Freese on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases with one out, the game had seen enough. The manager summoned Alexi Ogando to face Yadier Molina. Molina walked on five pitches to force in the tying run. A first-pitch strike to Nick Punto, a heady throw to third by Texas catcher Mike Napoli from his knees that picked off Matt Holliday, and a series defined by botched plays and missed opportunities seemed poised to change direction once more.

Ogando threw another strike, then uncorked a wild pitch and walked Punto. In came Derek Holland, who pitched brilliantly in the Rangers' 4-0 Game 4 victory. But in summoning his even-tempered lefty, Washington severely limited his options for a Game 7.

Matt Harrison, taken out in the fourth inning of the 16-7 Game 3 fiasco, will start. Just as the manager had insisted all along.

"We have complete faith and trust in Wash," said Michael Young, often referred to as the team's captain. "And we know that's a two-way street."

Holland retired Jon Jay on a comebacker. Adrian Beltre led off the seventh inning against new Cardinals reliever Lance Lynn with a blast into the right-centerfield seats and Nelson Cruz followed that by sending one over the leftfield wall. By inning's end, the Rangers had tacked on another run, had a three-run lead.

The game had rewarded Washington's trust. And his guts.

"He's not afraid to fail at all," Rangers leftfielder David Murphy said.

"You've got to do what you have to do," the manager said at one juncture of this World Series. "We believe in each other."

As did the Cardinals, of course. But there was a philosophical difference in how that manifested in this World Series. And despite characterizations that had as much to do with diction as decision-making, those philosophies had less to do with each manager than the personnel employed. If La Russa had Washington's team, he would be less intrusive. We know this, because, in the past, he has managed teams filled with good starters and defined bullpen roles and mostly everyday starters, and he has let them play the same way Washington let his team play.

"You know, it's not that I don't look at strategy, because some moves I make are strategic," he said before last night's game. "But I am in the flow, and that's the way I've always been in the game of baseball since the day I arrived as a professional as a player, since the day I arrived as a professional as a coach, since the day I arrived as a professional in the major leagues as a coach and the day I arrived as a manager in the big leagues, that's been my flow.

"I flow with the game."


Send email to donnels@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/SamDonnellon.


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