October 8, 2010

Missed check-swing call didn't beat Rays; Young did

Oct. 8, 2010

By EVAN GRANT / The Dallas Morning News
egrant@dallasnews.com

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - One of Ron Washington's favorite Wash-isms is to say, "if you treat the game right, the game will treat you right."

Michael Young treats the game right. Thursday, the game may have repaid him the favor.

The game - more precisely umpires Jim Wolf and Jerry Meals - may have given him one extra chance with a much-protested check swing call in Game 2 of the AL Division Series. But it wasn't the call that gave the Rangers a 6-0 win and complete command of this best-of-5 series with a two games to none lead.

It's what Young did with it.

While the Rays and the crowd of 35,535 went bonkers after Wolf and Meals ruled Young didn't go all the way around on a 2-and-2 slider from reliever Chad Qualls, Young stepped away from the box, calmly fixed his batting gloves and stepped back into the box intent on getting something up in the zone with the upcoming full-count pitch.

When he did, he drove it off the tinted glass of the restaurant in center field for a three-run homer that extended the Rangers' lead to 5-0 and sent the Rays further into histrionics. Tampa Bay, which stands one loss away from elimination as it heads to Texas, may soon have the whole winter to try and recover.

"You can talk about him being respected or whatever, but that shows you something about Michael's ability to perform," said catcher Matt Treanor, who has lockered next to Young all season. "He stayed focused on the at-bat and executed. That says all it needs to. It wasn't the call. It was what he did afterward."

After the game, Young all but admitted that, yeah, he may have gone around on the swing, chasing a slider that darted to the outside corner at the last minute.

"Let's put it this way, if they had rung me up, I wouldn't have argued about it," he said. "I would have walked back to the dugout and focused on defense like I usually do. I got the call in my favor and just tried to lock in on the strike zone at that point."

With Qualls, a sinker/slider pitcher who was trying to coax an inning-ending double play, Young was looking for something up in the zone. A slider that broke outside, he could foul that off and keep the at-bat alive, just as he had on the pitch before the controversial call. A sinker that dropped out of the zone, he'd lay off of that.

And so when he got a sinker that didn't, Young drove it 431 feet in what may be the defining moment of the series.

This is what Michael Young has done for a decade with the Rangers. He has dissected at-bats, focused on a plan and rarely argued. Even after his most vehement arguments - remember the game-ending coach's interference call in Minnesota on Sept. 5 - he made sure to say that while he disagreed with the call, he thought umpire Laz Diaz was a "very good" umpire.

Treat the game with respect. It is part of how he was raised in life and in baseball. That has only been reinforced by watching close friend Derek Jeter for the last 15 years. There may be no more respected player in baseball by teammates, opponents and umpires alike than Jeter. If there is, that player is Young.

It's been said more than once that if Young played in New York, he'd enjoy a Jeter-like reputation. That reputation is often cited when Jeter seems to get similar close calls from umpires. Those are "Jeter Calls."

On Thursday, Michael Young got a "Jeter Call."

But it wasn't the call that changed the series. It was Michael Young.

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