ARLINGTON -- Joe Nathan had been on both sides of a do-or-die, winner-take-all Game 163 before this season. But the Rangers' 5-1 loss to the Orioles in the American League Wild Card Game on Friday night was the toughest to take. "This one stings a little more. It's going to take a little longer to bounce back from," Nathan said. "Any time you play sudden death, you just don't know. ... You try, throughout the course of a season, to go through your funks at the right time. Unfortunately, it's about the worst time to go into our worst funk." While playing with the Twins, Nathan pitched in two one-game playoffs to decide who would win the AL Central. He tossed two scoreless innings between a 1-0 loss to the White Sox in 2008 and a 6-5, 12-inning victory over the Tigers following the 2009 regular season. The Rangers lost 11 of their last 17 games this year, posting a 5.05 ERA over that stretch, after starting the season 87-59, when they had a team ERA of 3.87.
"I think we're a better team for what happened," pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "Other teams had good years, too. We were in a dogfight the last couple of weeks. You have to tip your caps to some of those teams moving on. We should be there, but we're not. As Wash [manager Ron Washington] always says, you have to be the best team that day. We kind of ran into a stretch there where we were the better team but we weren't the best team that day." Despite holding a five-game lead over the A's in the AL West with nine regular season games left to play, the Rangers were forced to play in the AL Wild Card Game on Friday after getting swept by the A's earlier in the week. They held leads in five of their last six games, winning only one. "At some point, we just ran out of gas," outfielder David Murphy said. "It doesn't really feel like we played a playoff game. I know we're good enough. I'm going to be watching teams on TV next week and I'm going to know we're good enough to be where those guys are. But we didn't get it done. For that, we don't deserve to be there." After going 9-14 in July, scoring a league-worst 81 runs and tying a club record for fewest wins in a month, the Rangers went 38-23 between the months of August and September before losing all four games they played in October as their season came to a shocking end. "We had higher goals, but we just didn't get it done," Mike Napoli said. "We went through a bad stretch in the middle of the year. It kind of felt like that. Everyone in this clubhouse was trying. We weren't going out there trying to lose. Everyone was giving everything they got. It just didn't happen for us. It wasn't the same as winning baseball." The Rangers played 33 playoff games over the 2010 and 2011 seasons, winning a pair of AL pennants, the first two in franchise history. But they were bounced out of this year's postseason after just one game, a 5-1 defeat to an Orioles team that the Rangers beat five times in seven games during the regular season. The Rangers grounded into three double plays in that loss to Baltimore on Friday night, going 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position and leaving eight men on base. All nine of their hits were singles. "It's kind of beginning to hit me," reliever Alexi Ogando said. "This is a very difficult season to explain. Being in first place all year and ending the way that we did is kind of hard to swallow. Overall, we're very disappointed but not really able to explain how this went down."