As I sit here waiting out a couple repairman service calls, here’s a few quotes on the subject of fixing things:
First, a measured, systematic fix:
Chris Davis, as told to Richard Durrett of the Dallas Morning News, regarding the adjustments he’s made since his early-July demotion to Oklahoma City: “My stance is different. I was a little open last year but was tall and my head was moving a lot. It kind of made me speed things up and made a breaking ball that was low and away, if it was in the dirt, it made it look closer and that I could get there. It’s like what they did with [Nelson] Cruz. They opened me up more and my head isn’t moving as much and I’m seeing those pitches and walking more. It’s a really good feeling. It tells me I’m not seeing much to hit and I’m laying off. I feel right now I’m as good as I’ve been maybe in my professional career.”
Looking forward to his return. Davis sits at .327/.421/.540 with the RedHawks, sporting 24 walks and 35 strikeouts in 150 at-bats. Even better: in August, he’s drawn 15 walks and fanned 16 times.
Second, a fix on the fly:
On Monday, in Tommy Hunter’s last start, he’d loaded the bases in the second inning and couldn’t find the plate. In an inning and two-thirds he’d uncharacteristically thrown as many balls as strikes (19 of each), including nine balls out of his last 12 pitches. A four-pitch walk of Denard Span loaded the bases for Brendan Harris, with Joe Mauer on deck, and up to the mound from third base jogged Michael Young.
I think I can count on one hand the times I’ve seen Young trot to the mound by himself to talk to the pitcher. Was it because he wanted to ease the burden on Kevin Richardson, making his first big league start behind the plate? Was it because he’d gotten a dugout signal to buy some time as someone got loose in the bullpen? (No.) Did it have something to do with a play or an alignment Young wanted to be sure they were on the same page about?
I was dying to know.
Hunter struck Harris out looking to end the inning, starting a string of 10 straight Twins he retired (three groundouts in the third inning, a flyout and infield pop and strikeout in the fourth, two groundouts and a strikeout in the fifth) en route to his third straight win.
What had Young said to Hunter?
According to the rookie pitcher in a postgame interview: “Mike came out to me and said, ‘You don’t have your stuff today. You can quit, or you can come out fighting right now.’ Little words of encouragement like that get you pumped up. Kind of sets you back in your little mode.”
(Especially when it comes from a guy who doesn’t stride to the mound every game. Or every month.)
According to the veteran leader: “I said, ‘Tommy, this can be one of those games right now where at the end of the game, you can say, ‘It wasn’t my night.’ And no one would fault you because you’ve been dealing so much and everyone would say you get a mulligan. But I said, ‘Don’t give into that. Battle through that right now and start pitching like you can.'”
As Hunter said: “Little words of encouragement like that get you pumped up.”
Even if you’re just a fan.
It reminds me, though on a much different scale, of one of my favorite Rangers stories ever.
Three years ago I wrote the following, about something that happened 13 years ago:
On Friday I went to the Alumni Legacy Luncheon, honoring the 1996 playoff team, and I wish the room held 50,000 rather than 500. Table number 33 was near the back of the room, but I’m certain we had the best seats in the house, because eight of us had a full hour and half with Dave Valle. I asked him if the story Rusty Greer told on the Ticket a couple weeks ago was true — the story about Valle calling a team meeting on August 9, 1996, telling Johnny Oates that he and his staff were not excused from the meeting, and neither were the trainers or the equipment guys or the bullpen catcher.
Coming off two losses in Detroit, which cut the Rangers’ division lead over Seattle to two games, Valle told teammate Dennis Cook on the plane to Toronto that he felt like he needed to say something to the team but wasn’t sure it was his place. “Cookie” told Valle, at the time a 12-year big league veteran with all of 62 at-bats in four months as Pudge’s backup, that he’d earned the right to speak up.
Valle got in the face of every man in that clubhouse, the players and the trainers and the equipment guys and the bullpen catcher — and the manager — and challenged each of them: “Are you willing to do what it takes to win?”
Picture a second lieutenant lining up the troops, side by side, barking the same question, the same command, at each of them. Starting with the Senior General. “Are you willing to do what it takes to win?”
Johnny Oates, who had just granted Valle permission to hold the meeting and asked when the coaches should vacate the room, only to be told by Valle that nobody was excused from the room, responded to his backup catcher: “Yes, sir.”
The Rangers reeled off seven straight wins. The division lead was extended to seven games, a season high (and without checking, probably a franchise high for the 25-year-old club).
Valle talked about the lead that subsequently almost disappeared, a nine-game cushion on September 11 that shrunk to one game on September 20 when Garret Anderson hit that two-run double that I’ll never forget, that shot to left-center that turned a win into a loss in five seconds. Mark McLemore had given Texas a 5-4 lead in the top of the 10th. Mike Stanton got Jim Edmonds and Tim Salmon out to start the bottom of the inning, but then gave up singles to George Arias and Rex Hudler. And then Anderson almost cost me my life.
Valle said he was the most shocked person in the clubhouse when he saw his name in the starting nine the next day. Oates was notorious for his etched-in-granite lineups. Valle, as he put it himself, was like a backup quarterback, “getting to play every third Sunday.” But with eight games to go and the team reeling, seemingly about to squander its chance at a first-ever playoff berth in cataclysmic fashion, Oates sat Pudge and put Valle in the lineup to catch John Burkett.
Valle homered to left off Jim Abbott in the seventh, highlighting a 2 for 4 night and a 7-1 Rangers win. It was the last of Valle’s 77 lifetime home runs. And, in his words, maybe the biggest.
Texas would finish the year with six wins in those final eight games, and an invitation to the American League playoffs. The clincher came on September 27, a surreal 15-inning loss to the Angels that was dissected by a simple flip of the out-of-town scoreboard, late in the game, from “9” to “F,” next to “SEA 1” that stood above “OAK 8.” The Mariners were done, and the Rangers played on, losing the game that wouldn’t end and then hugging each other on the field as fireworks went off forever and we all heard Holtzie’s voice over the P.A. system, narrating the moment and failing to disguise that he was as overcome as any of us. I was in the stands until 2 a.m. that night.
Dave Valle said the best moment of his baseball career was when his boys were doused in champagne on September 27, 1996 (well, September 28), during a clubhouse celebration that didn’t end until 5 a.m.
* * *
I don’t know what’s going to happen the next seven weeks, and neither do you and neither does Michael or Mark or Aki, or Buck or JD.
I can see Valle’s finger in my face, asking if I’m
willing to do what it takes to win.
I am. See you at the yard.
On that afternoon, at Table Number 33, as I learned more about the story that Greer had referred to on a radio show just a couple weeks earlier, Dave Valle indelibly etched a place in my personal Rangers history. His role on that first-ever Rangers playoff club, as its 25th man, cannot be overstated as far as I’m concerned.
It took the encouragement of Valle’s teammate Dennis Cook to convince him that the time and place were right for him to speak up.
We don’t really know how often Michael Young speaks up, whether on the mound or in the dugout or in the clubhouse – and for all we know there’s been a Dave Valle moment behind closed doors with this club that we won’t hear about until some team luncheon 10 years from now – but the impression I get is that part of what gives Young’s words so much impact is that his unassailable leadership is generally less vocalized than it is demonstrated.
Like Valle said, face to face with Johnny Oates any everyone else in that Rangers clubhouse – “Are you willing to do what it takes to win?” – those same words resonate in what Chris Davis has been able to do in a month and a half in AAA, and what Tommy Hunter was able to do in an instant, motivated by a casual stroll to the mound by his third baseman.
Now, for me, back to getting some things fixed so we’re all set to take in the huge series in Tampa that starts in about five hours.
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(c) Jamey Newberg