Young remains heart and soul of Rangers

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Of the elements that comprise these Texas Rangers, who are running hot again, the most critical of them might also be the most unassuming.

The least combustible, unless provoked.

And the most professional, without question.

That would be Michael Young(notes) – 34 years old, offseason trade bait, and again their most reliable player.

Michael Young picked up the 2,000th hit of his career on Aug. 7 against Cleveland.
(Getty Images)

Now, the Rangers do not arrive as one man.

They play today from an accumulation of time and events, the way an organization pulls itself from a decade or five of mostly suffering. They play as an organization that only recently discovered the value of pitching, along with the means to acquire and develop it.

And they play in the afterglow of the World Series team, all of them – the men who built it, and prodded it, and lived it, then paraded it down the Nolan Ryan Expressway.

There is a standard now, once Young’s, today spread across a clubhouse of which he’s been the conscience for a decade.

For years, they were what they were, missing something. Now, leaders of the AL West by seven games and winners of three games in three nights here against the Los Angeles Angels, they are what they are, which is something much better.

Moreover, it is something that looks sustainable.

“We’ve played in big games,” Young said late Wednesday following another three-hit game. “We’ve won big games. And we know how to win big games.”

Once predictably skittish, the Rangers carry themselves like a team that will run imprecision off the field, as they did the first two games of the series against 21-year-old Tyler Chatwood(notes) and 23-year-old Garrett Richards(notes) (combined major league wins: six), so two rookie starters and a lot of swings against middle relievers.

And they carry themselves like a team that will find a way against one of the league’s best, finding one pivotal pitch to beat Ervin Santana(notes) 4-3 on Wednesday in a game that the Angels used to win.

“The World Series, that’s what they’re carrying with them,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “You play like defending American League champions, and that’s what they’re doing. And they’re not cocky about it. They just know they’re good.”

So much of it still seems to run through Young, too. After a winter in which he was very nearly traded away, after he’d become so disgusted and insulted he finally insisted on it, Young sits again in his familiar place. He bats cleanup. He plays third base. He is four points off the batting leader, and 10 RBIs behind the league leader.

He is the Rangers’ composure, piling good days after good days, and four good at-bats in them.

After arguably the most trying professional offseason of his life, he could set career highs in batting average and RBI, and in the summer he passed 2,000 hits. By no coincidence, the Rangers are hitting again, backing a pitching staff that misses Cliff Lee(notes) but resupplied its bullpen at the trading deadline.

Asked how the season has turned out different than he might have expected, Young hardly understood the question. They lined the fields, they sang the anthem, they rang the bell.

“Once I got to spring training, it’s been exactly how I thought, to be honest with you,” he said. “It’s just been all baseball, which was a load off my mind. I was tired of everything going on in the offseason. I’m a baseball player. That’s what I do.”

Michael Young (left) and Nelson Cruz react after Cruz homered in an 8-4 win over the Angels on Aug. 15.
(Getty Images)

He batted .342 in April and .340 in May. He became the primary third baseman again three weeks into July, when Adrian Beltre(notes) strained a hamstring, and in 24 games since he’s batted .400. The Rangers have won 15 of them, and in the past 10 days increased their lead over the Angels by six games.

“If we get lucky enough to hold on,” Washington said about their division lead, “I’m about certain he’ll be one of the guys they consider to be MVP.”

As for Young the prepared ballplayer, Washington added, “He’s on the same level as all the superstars, all the good players. They all show up. And they never slack.

“I appreciate him a lot more this year, because we’ve had to rely on him more this year.”

It’s a funny thing about Young as he reaches his mid-30s. He doesn’t dread it. Never did. He watched Paul Molitor, in particular, retake his career at 34, reach 2,000 hits at 34, and press toward 40 (and 3,000 hits) with sustained bat speed and accrued wisdom.

At Young’s age, Molitor had more than 1,200 hits still in him, and nearly 1,000 games.

“The thing I’m most proud of, I showed up and played,” Young said. “I still show up and play. I think my teammates can depend on me. That means a lot.”

No, the Rangers do not arrive as one man.

But, if they did have to pick one …

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Tim Brown is a national baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports. He co-authored with Jim Abbott the memoir “Imperfect: an Improbable Life”.   Follow him on Twitter.   Send Tim a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Aug 18, 2011