Taking the long way

SURPRISE, ARIZ. -- Photographs with smiling retirees and young kids during a morning B-game with the White Sox don't obscure the fact that Ron Washington, the manager of the Texas Rangers, has the hardest job in professional sports.

The Rangers were a fingernail length from winning the World Series, one strike away with a two-run lead in consecutive innings, so Washington's spring optimism and assessment of his two-time-defending AL pennant winners is accompanied by another undeniable layer. He must go through 45 days of spring training to get one more strike. He has to go through the rolling sea of 162 games -- with its injuries and doubts, boom times and streaks -- to get one more strike. He has to go through Albert Pujols again, this time in his division on a stacked Angels team that also added Texas' best pitcher last season in C.J. Wilson. Prince Fielder is now on a Tigers team the Rangers beat in the ALCS. And Washington must overcome another season of the Red Sox and Yankees and another set of playoffs -- just to get the one strike he
and his team didn't get that epic night in St. Louis in Game 6.

The morning before Yu Darvish made his spring debut in Peoria, Ariz., against the Padres -- 36 pitches thrown, 150 media credentials issued -- Washington explained why he believes neither he nor his team will be devoured by the haunting memories of Oct. 27, when the Rangers came as close to winning a World Series as a team can without doing so.

"I worked on myself all winter, and now I have to work on these guys," Washington said. "And I have to admit, I'm amazed at their focus, amazed at how disciplined and how driven they are. You're not going to forget the World Series, but you can't let it eat at you or go back to it every time something goes wrong. This is 2012. Over the winter, my wife said to me, 'What's gonna happen if you don't get back there?' I can't worry about that. As long as we do what we're capable of doing and win and lose the right way to our standards, I can't ask for anything else."

He thinks the way he has to, the way a true leader must. He has to say and believe that history is meaningless, that the idea of devastating losses having devastating consequences may have been true in the past but doesn't pertain to his club. Which is to say that the 1987 Red Sox, a team that didn't make the playoffs a year after being one strike away from winning the World Series, do not matter to the 2012 Rangers. Yesterday's heartbreaks don't matter today.

Nor do the triumphs. The 1960 Yankees lost the World Series to Bill Mazeroski on one swing of the bat and came back to win the Series not just the following year but in 1962 as well. The 2003 Red Sox lost the Aaron Boone game in the ALCS and won the World Series the next season.

Washington doesn't scan baseball history for precedent but looks more inward. "Where I've been is going to help me. The problems I had a couple of years ago told me I had something to offer, and if you don't, it might be gone," he says, referring to his admitted cocaine use. "Everything I've gotten has come the hard way, nothing easy for Ron Washington. Every year I had to come to spring training to make a [expletive] team, and once I made it, you know what I got? Nothing. I came to spring training the next year knowing I had to make the [expletive] team again. You fight and you fight, and these experiences will tell you about your personality, about the people around you and about yourself.

"We didn't get it. Do I still have to go through the conversations that 'Wash blew this, and Wash should've done that?' Yeah, I do. I will have people telling me I should have left Neftali [Feliz] in the game after the ninth inning, but they don't know what I know about that night. They didn't have to decide right there. I did. Darren Oliver got lefties out for us all year long, and we didn't get it done."

Elvis Andrus, the emerging shortstop, has the attitude that gives Washington energy. "You'll always remember, but this is a great team," Andrus says. "Now people are after us. We don't shy away, not from another chance to win it."

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