ARLINGTON — Playoffs? Playoffs?!!As far as the Texas Rangers are concerned, the postseason started seven days ago.They were the American League’s version of dead men walking. Over four hit-starved weeks, they had lost 10 games in the standings, a free-fall that had threatened to make them an October afterthought.As a final seven-game homestand began, the Rangers needed runs. They needed help from other teams. They needed a phone call from the governor. Ring-ring!Game No. 163 and the Tampa Bay Rays come calling Monday night. For once, like the old Bob Hope joke, first prize is a trip to Cleveland.Seven days ago, the Rangers’ backs weren’t against the wall. They seemed buried in the wall, done in by their recurring seasonlong habit of suddenly not scoring runs. But as manager Ron Washington said Sunday, “We knew we had it in us. It was just a matter of getting it out.”Seven days, seven out-of-the-blue victories have followed, climaxed by Sunday’s 6-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. “We found our game,” Washington said. “The way we played this week is the way we played when we were going well during the year.” Playoffs? Playoffs?!!As veteran closer Joe Nathan said, the Rangers have had to rise to a postseason level all week.A year ago, Washington’s team wheezed to the finish line, stymied and spent. The Rangers squandered what should have been a third consecutive AL West title in the final week.But that’s ancient history, Nathan said.“We never thought back to last year,” he said of last season’s collapse. “The history for us is exactly that — it’s history.“There’s a new team in here. There’s a lot of new faces.”One of those new faces, rookie left-hander Martin Perez, will attempt to pitch the Rangers into the AL postseason Monday night against the Rays. Another new face figured prominently in Sunday’s seat-squirming finish. Veteran lefty Neal Cotts was called upon to relieve Yu Darvish in the sixth inning, a move that prompted a spirited defense from Washington and a curious reaction from the starting pitcher.“It was obvious,” Washington said of the decision to remove Darvish with two outs in the sixth. “[Josh] Hamilton was coming up there, and Hamilton is dangerous. “I certainly didn’t want [Darvish] to make a mistake on a pitch right there, so I brought in Cotts and tried to make Hamilton as uncomfortable as I possibly could.”It didn’t work. Hamilton comfortably lined a game-tying, opposite-field single. But three more Rangers relievers saw to it that the Angels didn’t get another runner into scoring position over the final three innings.Darvish, speaking through his interpreter, chose to answer a question about his early exit with a flippant remark.When asked whether he felt Washington and pitching coach Mike Maddux were, for whatever reason, being overly protective of him, Darvish said, “When Wash came out to the mound, what he told me was, ‘You shouldn’t be getting more airtime, so I have to pull you out.’ And Cotts is better looking, so he pulled me out.”The 84-pitch outing was Darvish’s second-shortest of the season. He allowed only three singles and a solo home run by Mike Trout.To me, Darvish seemed fine. But Washington was managing cautiously, as befits the fact that it was Game No. 162. It was the three bullpen arms who followed Cotts that made the decision work.The Rangers remain alive. They’re kicking. And hitting.Come Monday night, the cavalry also arrives with the return of slugger Nelson Cruz. His return may or may not help, but it certainly can’t hurt.A week ago the Rangers’ season appeared lost. But now, for at least one more night, they’re alive.A whole new October may await.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton