Rangers, Orioles on opposite emotional planes
ARLINGTON -- When the Texas Rangers clinched a playoff berth last week, they decided to low-key the celebration.
"That was just because there was something else in front of us," general manager Jon Daniels said.
He'd been asked if he saw a little of the 2010 Rangers in the 2012 A's. They threw themselves a wild, raucous celebration after clinching a mere playoff berth. They, too, still had a larger goal, but they went at it like there was no tomorrow.
Here's hoping the A's understand it'll probably never feel like this again. Next season, there will be expectations, and expectations can kill the joy of winning. Fans turn on some of the same players they once adored. Suddenly, anything less than winning a World Series is seen as a failure.
Players get jaded, too. They want more money or more playing time. They tire of interviews and autographs.
Some clubs persevere. The Yankees follow Derek Jeter's example, and nothing ever changes. They're consummate pros.
The Braves kept it going for 14 years in a row. The Phillies just had a streak of five straight first-place finishes snapped. They were tough as nails and up for a daily battle. They never tired of a challenge until injuries derailed them this summer.
But many clubs have trouble dealing with success. Environments change. Tony La Russa insisted that the dynamics of a clubhouse must be remixed every offseason because they're going to change anyway thanks to age, money, personnel moves, etc.
When a group of players wins for the first time, especially when no one expected the group to win, it's thrilling beyond words.
That's how it for both the A's and Orioles this month. They've come from nowhere to make the postseason.
They've been expertly constructed and brilliantly managed, and both have a nucleus of players fueled by the energy of youth.
Best of all, they're both new to all this. They love the attention. They're energized by the big stage.
All of which brings us back to the Texas Rangers. I asked Daniels if his club was still as excited about winning as it had been back in 2010 when a franchise that had never won a postseason series won the first of two straight American League pennants.
The Rangers were like little kids back then, winning and smiling and having the time of their lives.
Daniels does not believe winning has gotten old. He does not believe his team has stopped competing.
If the Rangers had won the American League West for a third straight season, they were going to throw themselves one heck of a party.
"Shoot me if it ever gets old," Daniels said.
Beyond the numbers and the matchups, emotion could play a huge role in Friday's Orioles-Rangers American League Wild Card Game.
Maybe it's just as simple as the starting pitching. Manager Ron Washington is handing the ball to Yu Darvish, and he desperately needs him to take control of the game from the first inning.
Yes, Orioles starter Joe Saunders has been beat up in Arlington, running up a 9.38 ERA in his last six starts. Yes, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Mark Reynolds and Nate McLouth finished the regular season in slumps.
But the Orioles had a great September. They went 20-11 and caught the Yankees 10 times. They never passed them, but they kept the heat on and never blinked until the final series against the Rays prevented them from hosting the Wild Card Game.
They've rekindled baseball in Baltimore. Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson have embraced them. So have Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray.
Earl Weaver delivered a pep talk, and there were nights when Camden Yards was filled and the Orioles were winning another close game that there was a sense of inevitability surrounding the team.
Still, if the games were played on paper, the Rangers would win. They've got more big-game experience and a deeper lineup. Until the last two months, they had more pitching than almost anyone.
Their challenge is to turn the page on a bad three days in Oakland. It could be as simple as Darvish taking charge or Adrian Beltre returning to the lineup.
It'll be fascinating to see how it plays out, how two teams in such different places emotionally perform. The Rangers have the burden of knowing anything less than a World Series would be seen as a disappointment.
The Orioles have exceeded every expectation. They're playing free and loose. Best of all, they believe they're capable of beating anyone. As the Rangers proved two years ago, that's a tough thing to overcome.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.