OAKLAND, Calif. -- With the Rangers' magic number down to 2, the clinching game could happen at any moment. So why not take a quick look at the three clinchers in Rangers history? Here goes:
Friday, Sept. 27, 1996: In a strange moment, the Rangers actually clinched the AL West in 1996 as they were playing in the top of the 13th inning of what would end up being a 15-inning loss to the Angels in Arlington.
Seattle lost to Oakland, 8-1, officially giving the Texas franchise its first playoff berth. A crowd of 46,764, including then Texas governor George W. Bush, stood and cheered, even though the team was still in the field in the middle of a game.
The evening ended with a strikeout to Kurt Stillwell, but fireworks exploded and the players came onto the field to celebrate with the fans. As for the game itself, Ken Hill pitched seven strong innings, but neither team could put anything sustained together as a 2-2 game went into extra innings. Garrett Anderson hit a two-run single in the top of the 15th and then the Angels held on in the bottom half of the inning for the victory.
The Rangers led the division by nine games with 17 to play, but Seattle got hot and swept the Rangers in a four-game series at the Kingdome to eventually get within one game of Texas on Sept. 20. But a 7-1 win the next day behind a nice start by John Burkett got the Rangers going again.
The Rangers won Game 1 of the divisional series at Yankee Stadium and had a 4-1 lead in Game 2 before the Yankees stormed back to win that one in 12 innings. New York then took both games in Arlington to advance to the AL championship series.
Friday, Sept. 25, 1998: For the second straight time, the Rangers clinched the division before during a loss. Oddly, this time few of them knew it because the scoreboard at the Kingdome didn’t show the second-place Angels’ loss was a final. But a few players found out and word trickled into the Texas dugout during the club’s 15-4 loss to Seattle. The Rangers elected to celebrate in the clubhouse, rather than on the field.
Texas was 3 ½ games back of the Angels with 20 left, but won seven of the next nine games to grab the lead. The Rangers won five straight games over Anaheim in the final weeks of the season.
"I think this makes a statement," Texas manager Johnny Oates told the reporters in attendance that night. "I think it says we're making progress. We want to be a team that contends every year and is looked at as a contender every year. I think this goes a long way towards that."
Texas ended up opening the playoffs at Yankee Stadium for the second time and ended up getting swept in the best-of-five series, losing Game 3, 4-0, in Arlington. The Rangers managed just one run in the entire series.
Sunday, Sept. 26, 1999: This time the Rangers earned the AL West title by beating Oakland, celebrating at home and not worrying about scoreboard watching.
Texas swept the second-place A’s, winning the final game, 10-3, to clinch its third postseason berth in four years. The Rangers outscored the A’s, 32-11, in the series and the big blast in the clinching game came from the bat of Rafael Palmeiro, who hit a sixth-inning grand slam to put the game out of reach. The Rangers
Juan Gonzalez tripled to drive in a run and scored on an error by A’s second baseman Randy Velarde. Todd Zeile hit a two-run homer to help the Rangers build up the lead before Palmeiro’s homer.
The Rangers again headed to Yankee Stadium for the first two games of the best-of-five divisional series against the Yankees. For the second straight year, they were swept in the series. And once again, managed just one run in the three games, falling 3-0 in Arlington to end the series.
We’ll obviously have much more on the Rangers’ previous postseason series as we get closer to the playoffs.