Rangers striving for AL West title

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Having lost five of their last seven games, the Texas Rangers need just one win against the Oakland Athletics to clinch their third consecutive American League West title.

But if the Rangers don't defeat the Athletics on Tuesday, they'll face Oakland in a winner-take-all final regular-season game Wednesday. The loser would drop into the AL wild-card game on Friday.

"We've got to win a ballgame," said veteran Rangers infielder Michael Young. "Every game has been important now for a long time. That's the attitude we've taken for the last week, week and a half. We've played in a lot of tight games. This team has a ton of experience in those kind of games. We'll come out (Tuesday) night ready to play."

The Rangers hold their slimmest lead in the AL West since April 12, when they were in front by a half-game after only six contests. After that, they won eight straight games and kept at least a 1½-game lead for the entire season -- until now.

All of a sudden, the upstart Athletics have not only clinched at least a wild-card berth, but they are touching the Rangers' rear bumper, hoping to pull alongside them with a win Tuesday.

Texas, which has lost seven of its last 11 games overall, has struggled against AL West opponents this season, going 27-28 in division play. The Athletics are 31-24 against the AL West.

The Rangers will send one of their top starting pitchers to the mound in Matt Harrison, who is 18-10 with a 3.26 ERA this season. The All-Star left-hander is looking forward to the challenge of pitching in a critical game.

"It's unfortunate that we didn't do it (Monday), but I've been preparing myself to start no matter what," Harrison said. "I'm looking forward to it. It's a chance to clinch the division, and I want to be on the mound."

Harrison's last clinching opportunity was Game 7 of last year's World Series, but he wasn't able to hold a 2-0 lead after the top of the first inning as the Rangers watched the St. Louis Cardinals celebrate a championship.

Texas watched as the A's celebrated at O.co Coliseum on Monday night, streaming out of the dugout when Grant Balfour struck out Mike Napoli to complete Oakland's 4-3 win. The victory put the A's in the playoffs and touched off a wild celebration that spilled into the clubhouse with champagne and cigars.

The Rangers stressed that their mission remains the same -- winning at least one game of the series to clinch the AL West.

"We're upbeat in here," said Napoli, who hit a home run on Monday, his seventh in his 14 games since he's returned from the disabled list. "We're not worried about anything. We'll go out there tomorrow and try to win the division."