The win, naturally, was by one run and required a comeback.
That’s how the Texas Rangers put themselves into first place in the American League West and how they pushed themselves to the brink of a second straight division title Tuesday night.
Their magic number is two. They can clinch a second straight division title Wednesday night at Globe Life Park.
The track record suggests that it won’t be easy.
Nick Martinez provided 3 1/3 scoreless innings of relief after starter A.J. Griffin completely lost the strike zone in the second inning, and Nomar Mazara launched a two-run homer as the Rangers rallied again to beat the Los Angeles Angels, this time 5-4.
Here is the Wednesday clinch scenario pending the outcome of two West Coast games: The Rangers can wrap up a second straight West title with a victory against the Angels and with a loss by the Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros, who entered Tuesday tied for second place.
Even if it doesn’t happen in the finale against the Angels, it’s likely to happen no later than Saturday.
There’s no exhale moments in this league. This is the best league on the planet. ... It’s about finishing, and we need to find a way to concentrate and finish.
Rangers manager Jeff Banister
“We’ve got a ballgame we need to play tomorrow,” manager Jeff Banister said. “We’ve got to find a way to put runs on the board. We need for Derek Holland to go out and pitch a good game and give us an opportunity to win a baseball game, and then we’ll take whatever comes.
“The reality is stay focused. There’s no exhale moments in this league. This is the best league on the planet. You’ve got to stay focused. You’ve got to stay ready. It’s about finishing, and we need to find a way to concentrate and finish.”
The Rangers became the first AL team to reach 90 wins, 36 of which have come in one-run games and 47 of which have come after they trailed at some point. They are the only team in the majors with five 90-win seasons since 2010.
But the Angels didn’t make it easy on the Rangers, who scored first, albeit as Carlos Gomez trotted home on a first-inning double play by Carlos Beltran.
The lead didn’t last long.
Griffin, who worked out of trouble in a scoreless first, allowed a one-out walk and single in the second but was a strike away from getting out of the inning. Yunel Escobar, though, singled in a run for a 1-1 tie.
The strike zone then got away from Griffin. He hit the next batter, Mike Trout, to load the bases and then issued consecutive four-pitch walks to Albert Pujols and C.J. Cron to give the Angels a 3-1 lead.
Griffin left having thrown 12 straight balls, and Martinez started 3-0 to Andrelton Simmons before getting the shortstop to ground out to end the inning.
“He came in in a situation where we needed to keep the score right where it was at and give us some innings,” Banister said. “He only gave up one hit, one walk, no strikeouts and got the ball on the ground.”
I don’t plan that or practice that. At best you’re trying to knock it down, and if it lands in there, then perfect.
Rangers relief pitcher Nick Martinez, on his behind-the-back, no-look catch
Martinez (2-3) made the play of the game in the fifth inning, somehow making a back-handed, no-look stab of a Simmons liner to start a double play to help protect a 4-3 lead that stretched to 5-3 when Mitch Moreland delivered a two-out RBI single in the fifth.
“I don’t plan that or practice that,” Martinez said. “At best you’re trying to knock it down, and if it lands in there, then perfect.”
The Angels scored an unearned run against Alex Claudio in the sixth and saw Tanner Scheppers strike out Pujols with the bases loaded to end the eighth inning after attempting to mount a rally against Jake Diekman.
Sam Dyson worked the ninth, pitching around a leadoff walk for his 35th save. Six relievers combined on 7 1/3 scoreless innings to put the Rangers on the verge of another trip to the postseason.
“On a night that Griffin ... really it was a challenge for him from the very beginning,” Banister said. “For them to step up and do what they did today I think is a testament to their resilience to really show up big for us.”