Pressure on Rangers and Washington

Suddenly demanding fans will accept nothing less than World Series after disappointing 2012

Down 2-0 to the Rays in the eighth inning Wednesday, the Rangers got runners to second and third with one out. Right-hander Joel Peralta was on the mound, and the Rangers had switch-hitter Lance Berkman and the left-handed-hitting A.J. Pierzynski on the bench.

Sure enough, manager Ron Washington called the right-handed-hitting Jeff Baker back to the dugout and summoned a pinch hitter. But instead of Berkman or Pierzynski, it was .200 career hitter Leonys Martin, and his fly to right field was shallow enough that Ben Zobrist was able to cut down the slow-moving Adrian Beltre at the plate.

The Rays won 2-0, but the news of the day was that CEO Nolan Ryan had decided not to leave the organization after an out-of-nowhere cold war with ownership over who has the last say on baseball decisions, the Hall of Famer or 35-year-old President Jon Daniels.

About the time the team was issuing a statement that quoted Ryan and the team's owners — none of whom made themselves available to reporters — Washington was explaining his choice of pinch hitters. Meanwhile, fans were driving home, unhappy Washington hadn't taken his best shot after they had shown up on a 39-degree day, which Elvis Andrus saw as a preview of this week's series at Wrigley Field.

"(Berkman) was available if I wanted him,'' Washington said. "But my manager's choice, I gave him the full day off.''

Ryan's deal to serve as the Rangers' CEO runs through 2015. Washington's contract to serve as their manager, most recently extended after the crushing 2011 World Series loss to the Cardinals, runs through next season.

It's unclear if either of the two — rarely questioned when the Rangers went to back-to-back Series — will be around until the end of their contracts, with anything less than a championship now unfairly viewed as a failure by a suddenly demanding fan base.

Just ask Josh Hamilton how fast things can change. A franchise icon whose 10th-inning home run off Jason Motte in Game 6 had the Rangers on the verge of a World Series parade, he was booed brutally by fans at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington when the Angels visited last weekend. Even his wife and children were heckled.

It's win or else for a team that saw its attendance spike from 1.95 million in 2008 to almost 3.5 million last season. And Washington's by-the-gut style of managing and loyal handling of veterans will be dissected like never before now that the Ryan soap opera has moved to the back burner.

Washington paid his dues. He knows his team well. He was doing the 37-year-old Berkman a solid by not forcing him to test his bad knees in cold weather when he called on Martin against the Rays.

It could pay off in August and September, when the Rangers know they will need a strong finish to slide into the playoffs ahead of the younger, more athletic A's and the Angels, who have added Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Hamilton over the last two seasons.

While the Orioles looked to Manny Machado and the A's to a cast of rookie pitchers, Washington gave talented kids Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar minimal playing time down the stretch in 2012. The Rangers seemed positioned to win a third straight AL West title and slot into the division series but lost their last three regular-season games to finish one back of the A's and then fell flat against the Orioles in the wild-card playoff.

"We were a little worried in September, but I don't think any of us really saw that coming,'' Ryan said in spring training. "For whatever reason, we had nothing left. One of our owners said it was like we had four chances to win a one-game playoff and lost every one of them. That's about right. You can't win one game out of four, you don't deserve to keep playing.''

Ryan saved Washington's job after the then-57-year-old manager tested positive for cocaine during the 2009 season. Will he be able to save him again if his moves don't pay off?

Sharing the ride: John Adams, the drummer providing a late-inning sound track at Indians games for 40 years, was invited to meet Mariano Rivera last week. It was part of Rivera's very unusual, very personal farewell tour.

Rather than be applauded and gifted as he makes the rounds during his last season, the 43-year-old Yankees closer — the best closer ever, no argument — is working with Jason Zillo, the team's communications director, to spend time with the people who populate American League ballparks.

He met with a member of the grounds crew and some fans in Detroit, then with Adams and some longtime Indians staffers in Cleveland. The New York Times recounted how after a relaxed half-hour swapping questions at Progressive Field, Rivera posed for pictures with his invited guests and passed out autographed baseballs.

He described the event as wonderful.

"I just wanted to be able to say thank you to these people,'' Rivera said. "I do appreciate what they do."

Worldly rookie: While the Upton brothers, Justin and B.J., have been getting most of the attention, rookie catcher Evan Gattis has been the coolest part of the Braves' fast start. He was burned out on baseball after high school and was treated for substance abuse during four years away from sports before beginning an inspired comeback in small-college baseball only three years ago.

Gattis is know as El Oso Blanco — White Bear — within the Braves organization. He hadn't played above Double A before Brian McCann's offseason shoulder surgery created a chance to win a job in spring training. He took advantage of it and entered the weekend hitting .391 with three home runs in six games.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez could have a delicate situation to handle when McCann returns from the disabled list. He's expected to be back in two to three weeks.

"It's not a quarterback controversy or anything," Gonzalez said. "You have to do it. He fits in that No. 4 hole until (Freddie) Freeman gets back or McCann gets back. And who knows then? Shoot, at the pace he's going, he may have 12 or 13 (homers) in that 4-hole. It's just good for the club for him to hit in that 4-hole. I'm glad it has worked out."

Stepping up: The White Sox never believed slightly built shortstop Eduardo Escobar could hit enough to be a big league regular. That's why they sent him to the Twins in the Francisco Liriano trade last season. He hopes to prove them wrong.

The 24-year-old won a job on the Twins' bench in spring training but has been hitting his way into the lineup, going 6-for-12 with a double and five RBIs entering Saturday. Batting left-handed, the 175-pound switch hitter crushed a Jeremy Guthrie pitch for a homer that traveled almost 400 feet to left field on Tuesday.

"That was impressive,'' Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He can swing the bat, but I don't think any of us knew he could hit it that far opposite field. That was a pretty good swing.''

Escobar hit for surprising power in the Arizona Fall League two years ago but had only 15 homers in 2,298 minor league at-bats. The real sign of his low ceiling was a .312 on-base percentage in the minors, but he's responding to his work with hitting coach Tom Brunansky.

The last word: "Only the supremely wise or abysmally ignorant do not alter.'' — The Giants' Hunter Pence on changes to his weightlifting regimen, which he says are helping him be productive.

progers@tribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribRogers

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