Rangers relieve (playoff) pressure with win

ARLINGTON, Texas -- You could tell much of the pressure built up in the Rangers’ clubhouse was let out after Sunday night’s 8-7 win, which clinched a playoff spot for Texas.

Two straight losses, a full day of rain and a kick to the gut in the form of a blown save on Sunday afternoon made things a bit tense in there. The Rangers weren’t panicking, by any means. That’s really not a part of the club’s DNA. But there had to be some worry, which turned into more than mild anxiety when Derek Holland gave up five straight hits and four runs in the first inning of the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader.

“It definitely wasn’t a good feeling,” catcher Mike Napoli said. “We knew we were going to have to battle.”

The sellout crowd at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington was fairly quiet as the Rangers came up to bat. But here’s the thing about this club the past few years: Stick them in a high-pressure situation down the stretch, and they find a way to respond.

They did it pretty quickly, too, getting one run in the first and adding two more in the second, three in the sixth and two in the fifth to take control. Napoli, a one-man Angels wrecking crew, did most of the damage with two home runs, a double and a career-high-tying six RBIs. Holland settled down, thanks in part to another stern mound chat with manager Ron Washington, who did most of the talking, as usual. It didn’t take a lip-reading expert to tell you the discussion wasn’t PG rated.

But Holland, Washington and the Rangers did what they had to do to make the tournament. Now, they’ve got a chance to get a high seed if they can play well in Oakland.

“Those guys don’t quit,” Washington said. “They are very resilient. They fight. The thing I love about them the most is there’s never any finger pointing in that clubhouse. We go down together, and we go up together. They’re a class act.”

For a team that has led the AL West since the second week of the season, making the playoffs seemed like a foregone conclusion. At least it did until the Rangers lost six of nine games prior to Sunday night.

That, combined with the amazing A’s and hard-charging Rays and Angels, altered the calendar. This clinching thing was supposed to happen days ago.

Instead, the Rangers had a quick toast after Sunday night’s win, deciding to save the big celebration for Oakland, assuming they can win one of three out there to clinch the AL West crown.

“We’re trying to win the division,” said Napoli, amid a clubhouse that included some rookies dressed in wild outfits as part of the traditional hazing. “We’ve got one more game to win. We’re going out there to try to win the division and get home-field advantage. We’ve still got to take care of some business.”

That business is a little easier now, which is why Sunday night’s win was so crucial. Had the Rangers not come back from the early deficit to get the victory, they would have been forced to win two of three in Oakland to win the AL West for a third straight year. Now, they just need one of those games to pop the champagne corks and douse each other with water and ginger ale in the Oakland Coliseum visiting clubhouse for the second time in three years. The magic number is two, and it hits zero with a win against the feisty A’s.

“It’s nice,” outfielder David Murphy, who homered in the second inning, said of the win and how it sets up the Rangers for Oakland. “It’s been a battle lately. Some days we haven’t been playing our best. A lot of the other days, teams are bringing their best for us. Teams are playing really well against us. It’s very gratifying to have clinched a postseason berth, even though that’s not the main goal.”