There is a bigger celebration ahead, the Texas Rangers feel certain. But first, a toast.
A toast to the first-year manager, Jeff Banister, whose Never Ever Quit attitude became the season’s rallying cry.
A toast to the big man, Prince Fielder, whose run-producing first half made the team’s post-July comeback possible.
A toast to the guys who turned their seasons around — notably, Shin-Soo Choo, Rougned Odor and Elvis Andrus.
A toast to the captain, Adrian Beltre, whose leadership helped carry the Rangers through September.
A toast to the new bullpen. A toast to Mitch Moreland. A toast to the fans who stayed and believed.
The Rangers celebrated them all with a toast Thursday night, after defeating the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 5-3.
The bigger, champagne-spraying party, they say, will come when they clinch the AL West title by winning one more game.
“We had a toast, yes,” Banister said, right after the victory. “I believe in celebration moments.
“But we’re not done yet.”
There was a time, not that long ago, when the Rangers were accustomed to these champagne things. But somewhere along the road — Game 6 in St. Louis? the disastrous last week of the 2012 season? — they had lost their way.
Whatever it was, it made the resurrection that followed in the second half of this season all the sweeter. You can pick any of a half-dozen low-water points for starters, though the 8-16 start or Aug. 2, when they were eight games behind, frame the comeback best.
The Rangers roared into first place Sept. 15 and haven’t looked back.
When you’re hot, you’re hot. Even the baseball gods can bend your way.
At no time was that more evident Thursday than the fifth inning, when the Rangers struck for four runs off Angels starter Andrew Heaney. The pivotal pitch of the inning was a ball three call to Choo that appeared to be a strike.
For the better part of two seasons, Choo — notoriously patient and selective at the plate — has not gotten that close ball-strike call. He has refused to expand his personal strike zone, and his post-All-Star on-base percentage of .460 leads the American League.
After umpire Quinn Wolcott’s bad call Thursday, Choo walked on the next pitch, and Beltre cleared the bases with a three-run double.
The Angels dugout howled. But when a team is hot, it’s hot.
The night’s scene-setting moment for the Rangers came in the second inning. With 2011 World Series nemeses Albert Pujols on third base and David Freese on first, Shane Victorino sent a high drive to the left-field wall.
But Josh Hamilton made a fearless, over-the-shoulder catch as he slid into the wall, and then righted himself to almost help throw Pujols out at the plate.
The Angels settled for one run. Beltre’s double soon made it 4-1. And lefty Derek Holland and the back end of Banister’s bullpen made the lead stand.
“We still have a mission to accomplish,” Banister said. “It’s a mission we all talked about in spring training, when no one was talking about it but us.”
Their magic number now is one.
One victory. One division title. One champagne celebration.
Angels at Rangers
7:05 p.m., tonight, FSSW