Texas Rangers return to AL playoffs
Texas has never won postseason series
The Texas Rangers clinched the AL West title Saturday and their first playoff berth in 11 years, beating the Oakland Athletics 4-3 on Jorge Cantu's tiebreaking home run in the eighth inning.
Players streamed from the Texas dugout after closer Neftali Feliz retired Cliff Pennington on a fly ball to left field for the final out with the potential tying run on second base.
Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton, who has been sidelined with broken ribs for three weeks, hugged teammates and jumped up and down near third base as a mob of players celebrated.
"It's a proud day in Texas," said Hamilton. "It's been a long time."
The Rangers became the second major league team to lock up a post-season spot this season, joining the AL Central champion Minnesota Twins.
Texas is the only current major league franchise never to win a playoff series. The Rangers won three AL West crowns from 1996-99, but fell in the playoffs to the New York Yankees each time, going 1-9 overall.
Those are the only postseason appearances for a franchise that began with 11 seasons in Washington before relocating to Texas in 1972.
Cantu hit a solo shot in the eighth, his first home run since being traded from Florida to Texas on July 29, and the Rangers hung on. Darren O'Day (5-2) pitched a scoreless inning and Feliz got four outs for his 38th save — breaking the previous rookie record of 37 set by Seattle's Kazuhiro Sasaki in 2000.
After the final out, manager Ron Washington and his staff hugged players as they came off the field. Reserve infielder Andres Blanco fired his hat into a crowd of Rangers fans waiting behind the team's dugout.
"When that ball went up all I wanted it to do was land in [left fielder Nelson Cruz's] glove," Washington said. "When it landed, I was able to relax. We committed to do something and we got it done, so that should tell those guys when they commit themselves and they bring the proper attitude and put the full effort there, real great things can happen for you."
Michael Young also homered and Ian Kinsler and Julio Borbon added two hits apiece for Texas, which won its second straight after losing the opener of the four-game series.
Texas ended the Los Angeles Angels' three-year run as AL West champs despite a rocky season that began with Washington's admission that he used cocaine. The team also underwent an ownership change in August when an 18-member investment group led by former Rangers star and current team president Nolan Ryan purchased the club from Tom Hicks.
On the field, things haven't been much easier.
Opening-day pitcher Scott Feldman, who led the Rangers with 17 wins in 2009, struggled early and was moved to the bullpen in late July. So was right-hander Rich Harden, who began the year as the team's No. 2 starter.
Texas has also been playing without Hamilton, an MVP contender who is hitting .361 with 31 homers and 97 RBIs. He broke two ribs when he smacked into the outfield wall in Minnesota on Sept. 4 and is scheduled to be re-evaluated in the next few days.
Despite all that, the Rangers did what they had to in their final series against their closest rivals in the division.
"There's no better feeling I've had playing baseball," second baseman Ian Kinsler said as a mixture of beer and champagne flowed down his cheeks. "We just got Cantu a couple months ago and he came up with a humongous hit for us. It was a great team effort today and it's the way we've been playing baseball all year. We just seem to pick each other up constantly."
Clinching a playoff spot in Oakland was fitting for Washington, who is in the final season of his four-year contract with Texas. He was a coach with the A's for 11 seasons and is still popular at the Coliseum. Several security guards and ushers asked to work the weekend series so they could be around to see Washington and his players celebrate if they won.
When they did, the Rangers rushed the field. Perez was mobbed immediately, while players ran in from the outfield and bullpen to join in.
Cantu's home run off reliever Michael Wuertz (2-3) couldn't have come at a better time. The Rangers, shut out in the series opener Thursday before busting out for 18 hits and 10 runs Friday, stranded six runners in the first four innings.
Cantu gave Texas a 2-1 lead with an RBI single in the sixth. The Rangers made it 3-1 in the seventh when Elvis Andrus walked, stole second and third and then scored on a wild pitch.
Pennington's two-out, two-run homer in the bottom half off reliever Clay Rapada tied the score 3-3.
With files from CBCSports.ca