Game 162 will hold significant meaning for the Texas Rangers for a second consecutive year — even more than it did in 2012.
The Rangers had already clinched a playoff spot then. But on Sunday, they will be playing for the chance either to win a wild-card spot outright or to fight their way into a tiebreaker scenario to be one of the two AL wild-card teams.
They control their destiny, and they’ve gotten back to that point by taking care of their own business and finally receiving help the past two days.
All the help the Rangers need Sunday in the season finale is to help themselves.
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The Rangers won their sixth consecutive game Saturday, beating the Los Angeles Angels 7-4, and they climbed into a tie with Tampa Bay for the second wild-card spot with one game remaining.
“We need to come in and win a game tomorrow,” closer Joe Nathan said. “If we can, we know more baseball is ahead of us, that’s for sure.”
The possibility for a three-way tiebreaker exists should Cleveland, the wild-card front-runner by one game, lose Sunday at Minnesota and the Rangers and Rays win. The Rangers could also win a spot outright should they and the Indians win and Tampa Bay lose, meaning they would play at Cleveland on Wednesday in the wild-card game.
The Rangers would host the Rays in a Monday tiebreaker if those two teams finish tied for the second wild-card spot.
A team meeting was held after the game Saturday to discuss all the scenarios. Making the playoffs seemed remote a week ago and at other times on the season-ending homestand, but it’s now a very real possibility.
“It’s been real the whole time,” right fielder Alex Rios said. “We knew what we had to do, and we’ve done a good job accepting the things that are coming toward us. [Sunday] is the last game of the season. Hopefully we can put together a game like the one we put together today.”
Rios continued to be a driving force in the Rangers’ lineup and had a hand in three of their runs. A.J. Pierzynski and Craig Gentry drove in runs in a two-run fifth inning to create some breathing room.
The bullpen tossed another 4 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of Derek Holland, and Nathan earned his 43rd save while pitching in a driving rain storm.
“This homestand we’ve played great baseball,” Rios said. “Today, you saw how we played. We did the little things. We moved guys over. We were able to pick guys up. We played as a team. When you’re able to do that, you have a pretty good chance to do well.”
After exchanging runs in the first, the Rangers scored four times in the second as the Angels committed two of their five errors.
The first came as Garrett Richards was struck by an Ian Kinsler liner with runners at second and third. Richards picked up the ball and looked the runner back to third, but his throw to first was low and couldn’t be handled by Mark Trumbo.
Craig Gentry, who had opened with a double, scooted home for a 2-1 lead that grew by a run on the next play. Elvis Andrus hit a sharp grounder to shortstop that Erick Aybar kept in the infield, but his throw to second was wide as David Murphy came home.
Rios followed with a sacrifice fly for a 4-1 lead, and Andrus capped the four-run frame by smartly coming home on a wild pitch that bounded just far enough from the plate.
The Angels, though, didn’t go away. They countered with a quick run in the third and added two more in the fifth against Derek Holland, who couldn’t finish the inning. Joakim Soria (1-0) did, stranding the tying run at second.
The Rangers countered with two in their half of the fifth with Pierzynski singling home Rios, who had led off with a double, and Gentry plating Pierzynski two batters later with a squeeze bunt.
Soria, Robbie Ross, Tanner Scheppers and Nathan put the clamps on the Angels’ offense, though they had the tying run at the plate with two outs in the ninth as the anticipated heavy rains arrived.
Nathan, though, struck out Howie Kendrick and put the Rangers in control of their playoff destiny with one game to go and with Yu Darvish on the mound.
“All of this is great, all of this is fun and all of this won’t matter if we don’t win [Sunday],” Pierzynski said. “So we need Yu to go out and pitch well tomorrow and hopefully score some runs early and take it from there. All this is for naught if we don’t find a way to win tomorrow.”