Texas Rangers clinch first postseason berth since 2016

SEATTLE -- It took 161 games, but the Texas Rangers, in Bruce Bochy's first season as manager, clinched a postseason berth for the first time since 2016 with a 6-1 win over the Seattle Mariners on Saturday night at T-Mobile Park.

The win assured the Rangers of at least a Wild Card spot in the American League playoffs. They hold a one-game lead over the Houston Astros in the American League West, and their ultimate fate - Wild Card or division champions - will be decided on Sunday, in game 162. Either a Rangers' win over the Mariners or an Astros' loss to the Arizona on the season's final day will send the Rangers to the AL Divisional Series, which begins Friday. If the Rangers and Astros tie, the Astros win the division by virtue of their season-series advantage over Texas.

The loss, combined with Houston's win, eliminated the Mariners from playoff contention. After two spirited wins over the Rangers in the first two games of the series, the Mariners held out hope they could pull off a miraculous run over the final week, but their hopes ended on a brisk night on their home field.

Bochy, who won three World Series titles with the San Francisco Giants in the 2010s before returning to the dugout after a three-year absence, stood in a champagne-soaked clubhouse after the game and said, "This is what I came back for."

The lingering unknown in Phoenix made for a muted on-field celebration. The Rangers briefly bounced around behind the mound afterward, hugging and shaking hands, before heading for the clubhouse, where restraint went to die. Champagne was sprayed, and music was turned up to the threshold of feeling.

"You work too hard from spring training to pass this up," Bochy said. "You've got to celebrate, and that's what we're doing now. I told them, 'Hey, guys -- we're celebrating. We got to the postseason; time to enjoy it. We'll come back ready to go tomorrow."

Eventually, the Rangers retired to the players' lounge to watch the final half-inning from Phoenix. They reacted like common fans, complaining about every called strike that went against the Diamondbacks and cheering wildly at the slightest hint of a rally. At one point someone yelled at Arizona's Corbin Carroll to "just hit a home run."

The pitching matchup seemed to favor the Mariners; they sent ace Luis Castillo to the mound to face a Rangers' team that found itself in a scramble to find starting pitchers to fill the season's final two games after Jon Gray was placed on the 15-day IL on Friday.

Bochy, who won three World Series titles with the San Francisco Giants in the 2010s before returning to the dugout after a three-year absence, chose Andrew Heaney, who hadn't started a game since Sept. 4, and Heaney exceeded expectations, throwing 4 1/3 scoreless innings.

"It's been a wild season," Heaney said, "and I was hoping it would be me out there."

Bochy said, "The story out there was Andrew Heaney. He just goes out there and throws a beautiful game. Got us to where we wanted him to. To be honest, before the game we talked about him facing 19 batters, and that's where it landed."

Heaney left with the Rangers leading, 5-0, but suspense remained. Bochy had to coax 14 outs from his bedraggled bullpen, and as he has so many times in the postseason, Bochy mixed and matched to perfection. The combination of Josh Sborz, Cody Bradford and Jose Leclerc answered the call, with Eugenio Suarez's eighth-inning homer off Bradford the accounting for the only Mariners' run.

Asked if it felt like one of his vintage postseason performances, Bochy said, "Yeah, a little bit, but that's what we had to do with our starters down. We huddled up, talked about what the plan was and it went just the way we wanted it to go."

Leclerc, who assumed the closer role this month for a bullpen that leads the majors in blown saves, retired the final four Mariners for his fifth save.

Castillo lasted just 2 2/3 innings, needing 86 pitches to get eight outs and leaving the game after allowing four runs in the third inning. The Rangers' rally materialized out of nowhere and then refused to end: with two outs and Marcus Semien on first, Adolis Garcia topped a dribbler down the third-base line that stayed fair longer than it had any right to. The infield hit was followed by three hits and two walks, ending Castillo's outing. He allowed four hits -- none of them hit particularly hard -- and five walks, three of them after two were out.

"We've still got a lot of work to do," Bochy said. "We want to win the division, but if you look at what we were able to do tonight - our backs against the wall, starters down, Heaney coming up big - it's just great."