ARLINGTON -- Rangers reliever Darren Oliver will be pitching in the playoffs for the sixth straight year. There is still one thing missing. "Yeah, walking away with the ring," Oliver said. He meant a World Series championship ring. The Rangers received rings for making it to the World Series last season, but they didn't get the big one for winning it all, and they enter the 2011 playoffs with one thing on their minds: winning it all.
"Yeah, absolutely," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "There's no doubt the goal is to win the World Series. We've put ourselves in position to win the World Series. The goal is not to win the first round of the playoffs or the American League. It's to win the World Series. That's what everybody is pushing for." The Rangers made the playoffs last year for the first time since 1999, and that in itself was a significant accomplishment after a decade of frustration and futility. But the Rangers knocked down a few other barriers once they got there instead of letting a "just happy to be here" mentality prevail. They won a playoff series for the first time in club history and they went to the World Series. They were only one of two teams to have never been there before. Now they are one of eight teams that have never won the World Series. "I think one of the things for us, we still have a little bad taste in your mouth how last year ended, losing here at home in the World Series," Game 1 starter C.J. Wilson said. "Obviously, there was a lot of glory on the way there, but we're all looking to win the whole thing, and that's why we're here. "So every day in Spring Training we talk about it and every day during the season we have been talking about it. Somebody on the team every day has had it in their mind that we're going to win this year. And that's the confidence that we have." The Rangers know it won't be easy, and they face a formidable first-round opponent in the Rays. Infielder Michael Young isn't interested in talking World Series when the Division Series doesn't even start until Friday. "We're not going to get ahead of ourselves," Young said. "We have a game tomorrow and that's it. We know what the ultimate goal is, but we're bearing down on the task at hand and that's the game tomorrow." The Rangers didn't even find out they were playing the Rays until just before their plane took off from Southern California after their season-closing 3-1 victory over the Angels late Wednesday night. The Rays trailed the Yankees, 7-0, on Wednesday night before rallying for an 8-7 victory. They trailed by eight games in the Wild Card standings on Sept. 4 but overcame the Red Sox to reach the playoffs. They are a great story and the Rangers are not about to look past them. "It's incredible what they have done in the month of September," outfielder David Murphy said. "Just the year in general has been incredible. They lost a lot of great players but made the most of what they had. We definitely respect them. We're not going to take them lightly. They have an extremely respectable pitching staff. We'll have to play our best baseball to win." The Rangers beat the Rays in five games in the ALDS last year. The Rays had the home-field advantage, and the visiting team won all five games. The Rangers won five of nine against the Rays this season. They won two of three at the Ballpark while splitting six games at Tropicana Field. Their last meeting was a three-game series in St. Petersburg from Sept. 5-7. The Rays won two of three and that was really the start of their improbable run to the playoffs. "They did an incredible job coming back and winning," shortstop Elvis Andrus said. "That just shows you how much heart that team has." "You're talking about two teams that played really well to get into the playoffs," Young said. "They played well down the stretch, and so did we. It should be a fun matchup." The Rangers enter the playoffs having won six straight and 14 of their last 16 games. If they hadn't played that well, they would have been in the Bronx on Thursday getting ready to play the Yankees. "We played really well down the stretch to get a chance to play at home," Kinsler said. "It was not make or break, but it was nice to do that. But now you're talking about two teams that don't care where they play. It doesn't matter if you're home or on the road. It comes down to execution. It's a matter of execution if you expect to win." The Rangers expect to win. It starts Friday, and the Rangers aren't looking past that. But they also enter the playoffs knowing what the ultimate goal is, and they will not be happy with anything less.
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.