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Khris Davis has not yet done much for the Texas Rangers in 2021.
The 33-year-old slugger just rejoined the team on Saturday after starting the season on the injured list. Perhaps the emotions of playing his first game with the club and contributing to a wild comeback win — he scored the go-ahead run after a pinch-hit single in the eighth — led the longtime Oakland Athletic to make a postgame clubhouse declaration.
“I’m here. We’re going to make the playoffs,” Davis said to his teammates after Chris Woodward addressed the team in the wake of Saturday’s 9-8 win over the Seattle Mariners.
The Rangers have 10 comeback wins in 2021, including a eruption against the Mariners on Sunday at Globe Life Field.
Texas scored six runs in the fifth inning after falling behind 2-1. Charlie Culberson started the rally with a solo home run and Adolis Garcia punctuated the comeback with a three-run homer. The Rangers scored all six runs in the inning before recording an out. The blowout win was something of an anomaly for the Rangers, who reached .500 for the first time since the first week of the season.
“I have no idea what’s going to happen. But for the way we’re playing and for him to say that, everybody kind of went like, ‘Yeah, why not?’” Woodward said before Sunday’s win. “That may be the start of something, but we have to prove that. The hardest thing to do in this game is to stay a good team.”
No one expected the Rangers, who are openly in a rebuilding phase, to be a good team this season. In fact, most figured on a last-place finish in the American League West.
As cliche as it might be in sports, the Rangers — at least a month into the season — are openly embracing that underdog role and riding the wave of a scrappy, never-give-up attitude that has resulted in a slew of comeback wins. Woodward relishes the role for his players.
“Tell them they can’t do something,” he said. “This is the wrong group, I think, to say that to.”
No one exemplifies the scrappy nature of the team at the moment more than Isiah Kiner-Falefa. The team’s mentality started taking shape during spring training, he said, and then showed up in the season-opening series against the Kansas City Royals in which the Rangers lost two of three.
“It was the first example of the adversity we deal with and how we don’t quit,” he said. “Just having those types of games and having a bunch of close games made everybody a lot closer. The culture grows from that. The culture is turning to a winning culture. It’s not expecting to lose, it’s expecting to win.”
Case in point, Saturday night after the Mariners took a 4-0 lead in the second.
“This year with this team we can be down five or eight and no one is panicking,” Kiner-Falefa said. Adding Davis to the mix, he said, just adds to the growing confidence within the clubhouse.
“We were doing what we were doing with a bunch of no-names,” Kiner-Falefa said. “No one really knows who we are. We’re playing guys tough. They know who we are now. And then you add a presence into our lineup. We were doing all that without a presence which is pretty incredible when you look at the salaries.
“Compare ours to other guys, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. I think that’s the coolest part. Now that you add the big guy in there, teams are going to be a little more worried about us and they’re going to be scared and we’re going to keep coming.”
Woodward chuckled at the suggestion that Kiner-Falefa, who won a Gold Glove at shortstop a year ago, is a “no-name” player.
“I love Kiner. He always considers himself a no-namer, but I think he’s made a name for himself for sure,” he said. “That’s the mentality the group has, though. I say we all have a chip on our shoulders, the whole roster does. We love that people doubted us. We still have a lot to prove, we still have a 127 games left. Davis coming back definitely brought a little bit of a presence. Not only in the lineup, but off the field.”
Part of Davis’ influence on the clubhouse has been to calm down a lot of inexperienced, young players, Woodward said.
“He puts that belief in the guys’ mind to say, ‘hey, let’s do something nobody thinks we can do.’ It’s good to have around,” he said. “He’s a massive presence … he makes guys believe when he’s around.”
Being comfortable in the big leagues, Kiner-Falefa said, is something this young team is still working through.
“We’re a scary team when everybody is comfortable so it’s cool to start seeing that culture change and what we’ve got going,” said Kiner-Falefa, who was 3-for-5 with three runs scored on Sunday.
For his part, Woodward credits Kiner-Falefa for helping institute the growing, confident culture in the team’s clubhouse.
“Every time we step on the field for batting practice or defensive work, he’s leading the charge out there. He setting the tone with the energy and the effort and everybody kind of follows suit,” Woodward said. “Joey [Gallo] does the same in the outfield. This is how we work. This how we do things here in Texas. This is just what we do and how we do it. It’s been awesome.”
Of course, Woodward quickly acknowledges that a changing culture is a lot easier to cultivate when your team is winning. And so far, the Rangers are winning a lot more than expected.
“There has to be some success to create belief,” he said. “It’s great to have a bunch of good dudes and they get along really well together. But when that chemistry shows up on the field and they compete together. To love to compete with one another, I think that’s what is defining us right now.
“Games like [Saturday] night just add to the belief. We’re going to have some rough stretches, but when we find ways to win like we have lately, together; it seems like it’s somebody different every night.”