Gil LeBreton

Once left for dead, Rangers about to sip champagne

Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre celebrates his two-run home run with designated hitter Prince Fielder (84) against the Detroit Tigers during the first inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, September 30, 2015, at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas.
Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre celebrates his two-run home run with designated hitter Prince Fielder (84) against the Detroit Tigers during the first inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, September 30, 2015, at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. Special

Two months ago, we were ready to bury their heels in cement.

Now the Texas Rangers are on the verge of champagne.

Their finish line is here. Four chances to write a glorious ending to one improbable dream.

Welcome to the end of the 2015 Rangers Cement to Champagne Tour.

Their magic number is two, and never for this franchise has that M-word been more applicable.

With all the dirt that we tried to pour over the Rangers -- in early May when they started 8-16, and again in late July when they were nine games out of first place – you could have built a mountain, like that fake Disney one where the Angels play.

Yet, here they are, 20 games over the .500 mark since July 21, a record second only to Toronto in the American League.

Once combustible, the Rangers’ bullpen now seems impenetrable.

Third baseman Adrian Beltre had 29 runs batted in – in September alone.

And since May 1, when his batting average bottomed out at .096, right fielder Shin-Soo Choo is hitting .295 with an .882 OPS and 53 extra-base hits.

They are a different team, a confident team. For the second night in a row they quickly fell behind the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday, only to immediately come back and seize the lead.

The 6-2 victory, coupled with Los Angeles’ 8-7 loss to Oakland in Anaheim, means that just one Rangers victory in the four-game series will eliminate the Angels from winning the AL West.

One Rangers victory, coupled with one Houston loss in Arizona, will clinch the division.

In his postgame remarks Wednesday, manager Jeff Banister seemed to want to tap the brakes on the anticipation, but he finally admitted, "It’s a special series, one we’ve looked forward to from the very beginning.

"They’re coming in here with all that experience. Marquee players. Two guys that sit right in the middle of their lineup that have given us some challenges. We’ve got to be at the height of our focus."

Banister didn’t name names, but any discussion of the Los Angeles lineup usually commences with the names of Mike Trout and Albert Pujols.

Another particular menace, however, remains C.J. Cron who, in two seasons against the Rangers, 24 games, has batted .385 with five home runs, 24 RBI and a 1.035 OPS.

Not even the great Pujols has done as well against Texas. But he remains Albert Pujols and all that that implies to Rangers fans.

The same goes for the Angels’ third baseman, David Freese, who spawned the haunting nightmares that remain of Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.

Maybe, though, it’s time for this Rangers team to meet the demons, the dark Angels, from its postseason past. Banister and his team certainly appear ready.

The manager, in particular, is on a roll.

For the 11th time this season, Banister started Mike Napoli in left field – previous career outfield starts: zero – and the Rangers now are 9-2. Napoli’s two-run monster homer in the third inning Wednesday pushed the home team’s lead to 6-2, and then just as suddenly Banister pulled him to be saved for another day.

"He kills the Angels," shortstop Elvis Andrus said. "I'll bet he's been waiting for this one."

Banister also pulled Napoli for early defensive purposes Tuesday, and it paid off with Will Venable making a saving catch at the wall. Later in that same game, Banister put Drew Stubbs in center field and then watched as Stubbs raced down Ian Kinsler’s slicing liner for the game’s final out.

But that’s the way Banister has been managing for the past month, like the guy at the dice table who keeps rolling the right numbers.

Ross Ohlendorf out of the bullpen on multiple nights? Sure, why not?

Napoli in left field? Juggle the rotation for Cole Hamels? Ease Robinson Chirinos back into the lineup?

Yes, yes and yes, a home run.

Two months ago, some people were wondering when the franchise’s fire sale was going to start. Now the Rangers may be one victory away from celebrating with champagne.

From Cement to Champagne. The final series begins Thursday night.

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