(No. 2 in a series recalling the "It" moment for teams clinching postseason berths, the episode that filled everyone with the same thought: "Hey, we can do this.") June 8, Arlington: In Texas, June can be the cruelest month. Invariably, the temperatures rise, and the Rangers sink. And the pattern is kicking in again. Last night, the Angels leapfrogged the Rangers atop the American League West standings and are enjoying their first day of the season in first place. Having the Angels sitting on top of the division looks all so familiar. And June has just begun.
Yet, manager Ron Washington has preached to the Rangers about playing only in the present, not against what might have happened last night or last year. The present includes Seattle pitching royalty Felix Hernandez -- against whom Josh Hamilton drills a two-run double with two outs in the first. Texas is clinging to a 2-1 lead in the sixth, and King Felix is still ruling over Rangers Ballpark's mound -- but Elvis Andrus crowns him with another two-run double, again with two outs. Hernandez has to abdicate his throne the next inning, when Vladimir Guerrero chases him with a two-run homer. While all this is going on, Colby Lewis is holding the Mariners to four hits through seven innings of what will become a 7-1 victory. All the enhancements that had the Rangers feeling good as the season opened are on convincing display: Vlad, the erstwhile Rangers killer from Anaheim; Lewis, from Japan; most importantly, Hamilton, from the sick bay. The Angels lose in Oakland. The Rangers move back into first place. They won't come down from there the rest of the seasons, spring to summer to autumn. Hamilton doesn't come down until the first of July. In a 23-game hitting streak, he bats .457, hits nine homers and drives in 29 runs. In the midst of that spree, teammate Michael Young is moved to marvel, "He's playing like a 12-year-old boy. ... The total package on display." Goodbye, June: The Rangers win a club-record 21 games, opening the month tied for first place and closing it with a 4 1/2-game lead. So, hello, October. If in the future we search back for the Flash Point to an American League pennant or maybe to even a World Series championship, that undoubtedly will be Sept. 11, Arlington, when the Rangers jumped Mariano Rivera for two runs in the bottom of the ninth for the middle win of a three-game sweep of the New York Yankees. But getting into the postseason was pleasantly uneventful under the calming guidance of Washington, who most significantly kept his players' focus on the field throughout a muddled ownership situation not resolved until Aug. 6 -- by when the Rangers sat on a 9 1/2-game lead in the American League West.