Rangers got caught living in the past

If you still had a sick feeling in your stomach despite your team having a 5-1 lead in the fourth inning, you must be a Texas Rangers fan. For a team that has had an inflated sense of itself all season, Wednesday’s 12-5 loss in Oakland seemed like an appropriate ending to the regular-season.

The Rangers left the champagne on ice, perhaps for good, because they put more value in their postseason pedigree than actually going out and finishing the season. If you’ve been listening to the quotes coming out of this clubhouse the past two weeks, you could tell how sensitive the players and their manager were about being questioned.

Ian Kinsler, who butchered a double-play opportunity to help open the floodgates Wednesday, defiantly told reporters the Rangers were still the best team in the American League. Ron Washington, who rarely hits a wrong note, brought up his favorite submarine analogy to illustrate how the “real” Rangers would surface at the appropriate time.

Well, we’re still waiting.

It seems all the playoff pedigree in the world wasn’t going to stop this Oakland A’s freight train. Not even a four-game lead with six to play was enough of a cushion for the idling Rangers. And if this team couldn’t muster any sense of urgency in the division race, how can you be optimistic they’ll rise to the occasion against another upstart team in the Baltimore Orioles.

By Friday, Rangers apologists will become intoxicated by the fact Orioles veteran Joe Saunders has struggled mightily at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. They will point to the Orioles only coming up with 11 hits and five runs in their season-ending series against the Tampa Bay Rays. But the Rangers are in no position to be feeling good about their chances. The one legitimate positive is that Friday’s starting pitcher, Yu Darvish, hasn’t had a hand in this collapse. He pitched well enough to win in the first game of a double-header Sunday, but closer Joe Nathan blew the save. I have no problem with the bravado Washington expressed when asked about Darvish on Wednesday.

“I’m not going to put any labels on guys as a No. 1 or whatever. But when we play our next game, he’s going to pitch,” Washington told reporters in Oakland. “I like the way he has gone out and competed. I like where he started and where he has arrived. You can say this: He is a big-game pitcher.”

And at least Darvish doesn’t seem to have the sense of entitlement that has apparently infected some of his teammates. They’ll never admit it, but the Rangers expected the A’s to eventually come back to earth. They didn’t count on them surviving a ridiculously tough road trip and then sprinting to the finish. As sportswriters, we’re trained to think in terms of potential “wake-up calls” after tough losses.

But that call should’ve come way before Wednesday’s loss. It shouldn’t take an All-Star center fielder butchering a lazy flyball to get a team’s attention. Josh Hamilton has a made of mess of things in recent weeks, but it’s not fair to put the collapse all on him.

This team was constantly reminded by the national media how great it was. And even during poor stretches, there was a belief that the pitching and hitting was too potent to remain in a ditch. But when it was time for this team to hit its stride, it actually went into full retreat.

At least the Red Sox could blame their 2011 collapse on fried chicken and beer in the clubhouse. For some reason, blaming this Rangers swoon on coffee and energy drinks doesn’t seem plausible.

Now, they have one more shot to save face.