Rangers reach goal with another playoff chance

With champagne being sprayed around and on him, Texas Rangers

manager Ron Washington savored the moment and remembered a much

different scene in the same clubhouse at the end of last year’s

World Series.

”After the Giants beat us, we stood in this room and we

committed ourselves to get back here and get another opportunity,”

Washington said. ”What we did, we gave ourselves another

opportunity.”

The Rangers, who had to wait more than a decade between playoff

appearances before last year, now have won the AL West two seasons

in a row. Texas and NL East champion Philadelphia are the only

division winners from last season to repeat.

Even though Cliff Lee opted to return to Philadelphia instead of

staying with the Rangers after helping them get to their first

World Series, Texas still has much of the core from last year. Many

of the same players, and the same winning attitude.

”We’re actually the same in a lot of ways,” Michael Young

said. ”We’re really resilient, we play hard, and we expect to

win.”

Young, the team’s longest-tenured player in his 11th season, was

one of the few regulars in the lineup for Saturday afternoon’s game

against Seattle.

The Rangers clinched their fifth AL West title Friday night with

a 5-3 victory over the Mariners combined with the Los Angeles

Angels’ 3-1 loss to Oakland about two hours later that set off a

celebration in Texas.

When the playoffs begin Friday, C.J. Wilson (16-7) will start

the opener for the Rangers.

Texas and Detroit went into Saturday tied for the second-best

record in the AL, both trying for homefield advantage in the first

round of the playoffs. The Rangers would have to finish a game

ahead of the Tigers, who won the season series between the two

teams. If not, Texas, faces the likelihood of opening the division

series at the New York Yankees in a rematch of last year’s AL

championship series.

”I want to win as many games as I can. But I’m not going to do

it at the expense of getting into the playoffs fatigued,”

Washington said when asked about trying to overcome the Tigers.

”We won a division and it wasn’t easy. It was a grind. And the

guys I depended every day were out there every day. For us to go

further, they have to be mentally ready.

Washington will go with a four-man starting rotation during the

playoffs, but didn’t say Saturday which of the starters would

become part of an eight-man bullpens.

”I’m not ready to expose it yet,” Washington said.

With Lewis, Derek Holland (15-5) and Matt Harrison (14-9), who

pitched six innings to win Friday night, the Rangers have gotten a

club-record 45 victories from left-handed starters. That is the

most in the majors since the 1997 Mariners got 52 wins from lefty

starters.

Right-hander Colby Lewis (13-10) was 3-0 with a 1.71 ERA in his

four postseason starts last fall, throwing five scoreless innings

in his no-decision and winning the AL pennant-clinching game. The

other starter is converted reliever Alexi Ogando, the right-hander

given extra rest in September because of his workload.

”We’ve been trying to establish something with pitching for the

past three years and I think this year our young kids stepped up.

Our two veterans (Wilson and Lewis) stepped up and our bullpen

stepped up,” Washington said. ”To survive, you’ve got to pitch

and you’ve got to catch the ball. We know what type of offense we

have, but on any given night, pitching can stop that. Consistently

you’ve got to bring the defense and you’ve got to bring the

defense, and that’s what we’ve done.”

These Rangers can still hit, and primary additions Adrian Beltre

and Mike Napoli only added to that.

Napoli (.320, 26 homers) was acquired in a trade last offseason,

but Beltre chose the Rangers over the Angels when he was a free

agent after an All-Star season in Boston.

Despite missing 37 games with a left hamstring strain, Beltre

has 29 home runs and his third career 100-RBI season. His homer

Friday night was his ninth in 12 games.

”It’s been a blast. One of the main reasons I came here is

because I knew we’d have a good enough team to win all the way. But

it’s not over. This is the first step and hopefully we can do our

job and bring the World Series to North Texas,” Beltre said.

”It’s the same team from year ago that went to the World Series

beside Cliff Lee. … I knew we had good enough pitching, good

offense and a good defense. My opinion, it was my best chance to

get a ring.”

AP freelance writer Ken Sins contributed to this report.