HOUSTON — Ron Washington has worked in professional baseball for over 50 years, since he signed with the Kansas City Royals as a prospect at 18. But for all his time playing, coaching, managing and coaching again, and for the thousands of games he has been a part of, a pair of Game 6s 10 years apart are now the landmarks of his post-playing career.
One of them was a crushing loss in which a single strike on two separate occasions would have made him a champion. The other was a sweet victory on Tuesday that finally made it happen.
Washington stood on the field late Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park after Atlanta beat the Houston Astros, 7-0, in Game 6 of the World Series to clinch the franchise’s second championship in Atlanta, and first with Washington as its third-base and infield coach.
He wore a World Series champions T-shirt, held a victory cigar in one hand and imagined the jewelry that would soon adorn the other.
“I’ve got two rings at home that say American League champions,” Washington said. “Now I’m going to have one that says world champion. All the years I put into this game, I finally got one.”
Washington managed the Texas Rangers from 2007 through 2014, and led them to two American League pennants. But Texas lost the 2010 World Series to the San Francisco Giants, and the 2011 Series to the St. Louis Cardinals.
The second one has haunted the Rangers franchise because of what happened in Game 6.
The Rangers led by two runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning in St. Louis, but with two strikes and two runners on base, David Freese of the Cardinals hit a long, but catchable, ball over the head of Texas right fielder Nelson Cruz, who was not playing deep enough. Cruz misjudged the ball’s flight, and it hit the wall for a triple. The game was tied and headed for extra innings.
The Rangers went ahead again in the top of the 10th on a two-run home run by Josh Hamilton, and for the second time in two innings the Rangers were one strike away from champagne. But the Cardinals fought back once again, and Lance Berkman singled home the second run to tie it again. Freese homered in the 11th to win the game, and the Cardinals won Game 7, too.
There was no such drama on Tuesday, as the script’s sad ending was reversed for Washington. This time, he stood down the third-base line to congratulate Atlanta’s three home run hitters — Jorge Soler, Dansby Swanson and Freddie Freeman — with low fives as they made the turn and headed home. Much of the game was never even close, and after what he went through in Game 6 in St. Louis 10 years earlier, that suited Washington just fine.
“This is very special for all of us,” Washington said. “But, yes, especially for me, too, because we did come so close in 2011. I’m a world champion now, and it doesn’t matter if I did it as a coach or a manager. I’m a world champion.”
Washington, 69, said he planned to return to Atlanta with the team and revel in the victory celebrations and parade. He could also become a candidate for open managerial jobs. Currently, there are vacancies with the Mets and the Oakland Athletics, where Washington coached from 1996 to 2006. That was before he took over as the Rangers manager, and he went back to Oakland to coach again in 2015 and 2016, before he went to Atlanta.
Washington reached an unceremonious end to his time in Texas. The team had looked past revelations of a positive drug test for cocaine that were made public in 2010, only to have Washington resign with little explanation in 2014 — Washington eventually acknowledged that he had stepped away because he had an extramarital affair and needed to focus on his family.
But he has always engendered devotion from players for his seemingly endless supply of passion and enthusiasm for his craft, and his ability to make them laugh and enjoy their work.
He is considered one of the best infield coaches in the game, so much so that Eric Chavez, Oakland’s six-time Gold Glove-winning third baseman, gave Washington his 2004 award, adorned with the inscription, “Wash, not without you.”
Alex Anthopoulos, Atlanta’s general manager, said that Washington’s insight is held in the highest regard within the organization. No defensive tactical decisions are made or even considered without Washington’s input and ultimate approval, he said.
“He has meant everything,” Anthopoulos said in a text message on Wednesday. “His passion, love and preparation are second to none. He always believed, and deserves this as much as anyone in the organization.”
Atlanta has won the National League East in four of the five years of Washington’s tenure with the team, but it failed to make it to the World Series until this year. But once it did, Washington felt certain the team would go on to win it all.
He pointed to the work the talented players put in and added that they, along with Anthopoulos, Manager Brian Snitker and the rest of the coaching staff, all did their part to make the operation sizzle throughout October — particularly in a World Series Game 6 that Washington can now smile about, 10 years later.
“I’m overwhelmed right now,” he said. “I’m so happy, I can’t even show how happy. That’s how happy I am.”