ARLINGTON -- The Rangers had to wait, and they watched the Angels-A's game on the big screen atop the Home Run Porch in right field. David DeJesus hit a home run to give the A's a 3-1 lead in the ninth, and Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus went flying around the bases with a big smile on his face. He was met at home plate by a dozen teammates in a mock celebration while about 5,000 fans still in Rangers Ballpark stood and cheered. A few minutes later the celebration was real. The Rangers clinched their second consecutive American League West championship on Friday night with the combination of a 5-3 victory over the Mariners and -- two hours later -- the Angels' loss. The Rangers are headed back to the playoffs for the fifth time in franchise history.
"This feels great because it is so hard to repeat," manager Ron Washington said after the Rangers' on-field ginger ale celebration moved into the clubhouse for the popping of champagne corks. "We came out of Spring Training with the goal of playing our best baseball, and we did day in and day out. We were expecting to do what we did this year. I'm really proud of my guys." The Rangers won division titles in 1996, 1998-99 and last year. They also won their first playoff series last year, beating the Rays in the AL Division Series and then the Yankees in the AL Championship Series to advance to the World Series. Now they are back. "This means were going to the playoffs and we have a chance to get the ring," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "A lot of hard work went into this. We've got a chance for the ring and we're going to give it everything we've got." The Rangers will open the ALDS next Friday against an opponent to be determined and a place to be determined. C.J. Wilson is expected to be the Rangers' starter in Game 1, followed by Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison and Derek Holland. Alexi Ogando is expected to be used out of the bullpen in the playoffs although the Rangers haven't announced a final decision. Postseason decisions were put off for at least one day while the Rangers savored the sweet taste of a division title. "We have a great group of guys who worked hard to get into this position," infielder Michael Young said. "It's an incredible feeling. I'm really proud of my teammates. I couldn't be more proud of a group of guys." "One step down and one step closer to our goal," Lewis said. "We're not done. We're going to celebrate tonight and go back to work tomorrow." "It's what you want to do," outfielder Josh Hamilton said. "You strive every Spring Training to win your division. That's a start. We'll take a couple of days to let things that hurt to calm down and then we'll get after it again." Most of those celebrating did so last year. For third baseman Adrian Beltre, this will be his first trip to the playoffs since 2004 with the Dodgers. "I came here because I thought we had enough pieces to win all the way," Beltre said. "It's not over. This is the first step between doing our job and winning the World Series." Reliever Darren Oliver was celebrating for the sixth straight season. He went to the playoffs in 2006 with the Mets, then three straight seasons with the Angels and now two with the Rangers. "It's so much fun," Oliver said. "Winning never gets old. Imagine what would happen if we won it all." That's the ultimate goal. The Rangers finally got to the World Series last year. They won't be completely satisfied until they win it all. "Last year we broke through as a team," outfielder David Murphy said. "This year we expect a lot of ourselves. We achieved our first goal, now there are a few more out there. This is only the beginning." The Rangers still don't know who they are playing in the playoffs, and that may not be decided until the last day if the season. The Rangers (91-66) are tied with the Tigers for the second best record in the AL. If the Rangers finish with a better record than the Tigers, they will have the second seed in the playoffs and open the Division Series at the Ballpark in Arlington. If the Tigers finish with a better record or they remain tied, the Rangers will have to open on the road like they did last year when they beat the Rays in the first round. The Tigers, by beating the Rangers in the season series, win the tiebreaker if the two teams finish with the same record. "We want to finish the season strong, keep going, keep the momentum going for us, too," Holland said. "We're not going to worry too much about seeding in the playoffs." Right now, the Rangers have other concerns. Washington wants to get his starting pitching lined up for the playoffs and he wants give his regulars time off leading up to the playoffs. "I'm still planning on giving my guys a break," Washington said. "It won't be all those guys at one time, but we're going to have to start getting some guys some breaks." The Rangers still have a three-game series with the Angels that begins Monday in Anaheim. Wilson, Lewis and Harrison are scheduled to pitch but likely with reduced pitch counts. With the division clinched, the series won't mean as much for the Rangers. Instead, they were able to celebrate on their home field, even if was a couple hours late. "It's awesome," Murphy said. "I wish we could have done it last year. It's great to celebrate in front of our fans. It's great that all those fans stayed, to celebrate with us." There is a possibility of much more to come.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.