Staggered Rangers play one game to save their season

ARLINGTON -- The one thing the Texas Rangers probably needed most Thursday -- a day off -- was granted to them by manager Ron Washington.

The previously scheduled workout ahead of their make-or-break wild-card game was canceled, and there was no need to come to Rangers Ballpark at all.

"I felt like they needed a break from the ballpark," Washington said.

The grinded-down American League West runners-up needed a day away from the game that has been so tough for them to play consistently well the past few weeks.

They aren't just beaten down physically. Their minds are a little warped from being ticked off or even shell-shocked by their late-season fall from first place.

"We don't envision that kind of thing," veteran Michael Young said Wednesday.

The Rangers will have had 48 hours to pick themselves up off the mat for tonight's wild-card game against Baltimore after missing out on a third straight West title.

Their season is slipping away, but they've been thrown a rope and know they can save their season with a victory over the Orioles.

"Over the course of the last week or so we had our chances to nail it down, more and more each day," outfielder David Murphy said Wednesday.

"We didn't get it done, but we still have life. Just because we didn't achieve our goal doesn't mean we can't go out there, play great baseball and be exactly where we wanted to be."

Yu Darvish will start for the Rangers against Joe Saunders. The winner advances to the AL Division Series, and will play host to top-seeded New York on Sunday and Monday before finishing out the best-of-five series at Yankee Stadium.

But the Rangers first have to move away from some shaky starting pitching and bullpen work, blown chances at the plate, too many mistakes on the bases, and lapses in the field.

Breakdowns in all areas contributed to losses in nine of their final 13 games, five of their final six, and a season-ending three-game sweep that allowed Oakland to grab the division title.

"That has nothing to do with anything anymore," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "It's down to one game. We either win or we go home and the season's over. It's a different animal now."

Another strong start by Darvish, who has flourished the past six weeks, could help the Rangers overcome their deficiencies. Topping the list is a lack of execution at the plate.

Runners are getting on base, but many times they aren't being driven in from scoring position as batters fail to do something as simple as hit a grounder to the middle of the field or lift a sacrifice fly.

"If you don't take care of those opportunities against very good pitching, what happens is what happened to us," Washington said. "When an opportunity presents itself and all we have to do is put the ball in play, we have to put the ball in play. We have to scratch those runs."

Especially when something is on the line, as the Rangers' season is tonight.

The Rangers will try to regroup after failing to win a division they led for nearly six months.

They say they can move on. They don't have a choice.

"Just keep fighting," Murphy said. "We've got a quick turnaround. We're basically going straight to Game 7 and playing in a must-win game.

"As nice as it would have been to wrap up the division, if we win one game, none of this matters."

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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