The final out of the final regular-season game fell into the glove of center fielder Leonys Martin, and the Texas Rangers filed out of the dugout for their typical post-victory handshakes even though the game Sunday was anything but typical.
Lose it, and their Monday would be spent packing their bags for a long off-season. Win it, and their Monday would be spent playing for one more chance to win a spot in the postseason.
The Rangers won it 6-2 over the Los Angeles Angels, completing a 7-0 homestand to earn a tie-breaking game against Tampa Bay to be the second American League wild-card team on Monday night at Rangers Ballpark.
There was no need to worry about players suffering injuries while patting themselves on the back or working their way toward a hangover by sipping champagne. Maybe Monday if they can knock off the Rays, but the Rangers were all business late Sunday afternoon.
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“There’s nothing to celebrate yet,” second baseman Ian Kinsler said. “We still have a lot of things to take care of. This was the first step. [Monday] is the next obstacle, and we’re going to have to play well.”
The winner of the 7:07 game Monday night will advance to play Wednesday at Cleveland in the wild-card game. The winner then will head to Boston to play in an AL Division Series that begins Friday.
Rookie left-hander Martin Perez (10-5, 3.55 ERA) will start for the Rangers on regular rest and be opposed by the reigning American League Cy Young winner, David Price (9-8, 3.39). Perez has been the winning pitcher this season in games against Felix Hernandez and Chris Sale.
The Rangers also could welcome Nelson Cruz back to the lineup. He will be activated after serving a 50-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs, but the decision hasn’t been made if he will start.
Cruz is 6 for 12 in his career against Price with two homers. Price is 1-4 with a 5.98 ERA in eight career regular-season starts against the Rangers and 1-2 with a 10.26 ERA in four starts at Rangers Ballpark.
“We’ve faced him a lot,” third baseman Adrian Beltre said. “We know what kind of pitcher he is. He’s one of the best pitchers in the American League. We’re going to do the best we can to win the ballgame however we can.”
Geovany Soto and Craig Gentry drove in two runs apiece Sunday, and Beltre and Soto homered in the ninth inning as the Rangers completed a four-game sweep of the Angels.
Yu Darvish allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings, and Tanner Scheppers and Joe Nathan registered a perfect inning apiece in the eighth and ninth despite both working on a fourth consecutive day.
Each said he would be available Monday against the Rays, who have lost four of seven games this season to the Rangers. Neal Cotts (8-3) got the win even though he allowed a single to Josh Hamilton in the sixth that allowed the second run against Darvish to score for a 2-2 tie.
Manager Ron Washington said he wanted Cotts, the Rangers’ best left-handed reliever, to face Hamilton, who was hitting only .197 against lefties.
“I was afraid of Hamilton against Darvish,” Washington said. “Hamilton is dangerous. I didn’t want [Darvish] to make a mistake right there.”
But Beltre singled off nemesis Jason Vargas (9-8) with two outs in the Rangers’ sixth, went to second on an single by A.J. Pierzynski and scored as Soto doubled to center field. Beltre hobbled home after tweaking an existing injury to his left hamstring, but he said he will play Monday.
Gentry opened the home half of the seventh with a single off Vargas, stole second and went to third on a sacrifice bunt by Leonys Martin. Kinsler grounded the first pitch from Juan Gutierrez past a drawn-in infield for a 4-2 lead.
Beltre started the eighth with a homer off Ernesto Frieri, and Soto followed two batters later with another solo shot. Nathan got three outs on nine pitches to set up the first Game 163 in Rangers’ history.
“I feel like we’ve been playing Game 163 this whole homestand,” Nathan said. “We needed a win every day. We’ve come in, and we’re happy where we’re at and happy to force this game.
“We have to come with the same intensity that we’ve brought all seven of these games with the same focus and try to get one more win out of this thing and head to Cleveland. Very proud of what we’ve done, but we’ve got one more. And one more past that.”