ARLINGTON -- The Rangers beat the rain, they beat the Angels and they have regained control of their destiny. The single most dramatic week of pennant-race baseball ever seen in Arlington is going down to the final day of the regular season.
In a game that ended in a heavy rainstorm, the Rangers won their sixth straight with a 7-4 victory over the Angels on Saturday afternoon at the Ballpark in Arlington. An hour after closer Joe Nathan struck out Howie Kendrick to finish out the Rangers' 90th win, the Blue Jays defeated the Rays in Toronto.
That was the help the Rangers needed. The Rangers left the Ballpark before the Indians, who hold the top American League Wild Card spot, beat the Twins in Minnesota. But the Rays' loss in Toronto moved the Rangers into a tie with Tampa Bay for the second AL Wild Card spot. If those two teams remain tied for the second spot, a tiebreaker game would be played on Monday at the Ballpark.
"That's the shot we were waiting for," shortstop Elvis Andrus said.
There are still multiple tiebreaking scenarios that could come up on Sunday depending how everybody finishes up. But the Rangers are back to the point where they don't need to worry about anybody else but themselves. Both Texas and Tampa Bay enter Sunday one game behind Cleveland, so if the Rangers win and the Rays lose on Sunday, Texas will clinch the second AL Wild Card spot. Under such a scenario, even if the Indians lose, they would host the Rangers for Wednesday's Wild Card Game because they won the season series against Texas. If the Rangers and Rays win and the Indians lose on Sunday, Cleveland will host the Rays on Monday, with the loser of that game facing the Rangers in Texas on Tuesday.
"All this is great, and all this is fun and all this won't matter if we don't win tomorrow," catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "We still got to win tomorrow. That's the biggest thing. To get through today, especially with the weather coming on and an 11 a.m. kickoff, it was good.
"We scored some runs early, put some pressure on them and put some pressure on the other teams too, because they look up on their scoreboard and see that we already won. It's good to have our game out of the way so we can relax, watch some football and get ready for tomorrow."
The Angels were able to help the Rangers as much as the Blue Jays did. On a day when Rangers starter Derek Holland struggled with his command, the Angels' defense had an even worse time out there. They committed five errors, including two in the second inning when the Rangers scored four runs to take a 5-1 lead.
"You can't sugarcoat the way we played defense," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "It was brutal. And just silly mistakes. And it cost us. I think that's the story of this afternoon."
The Rangers did their part offensively. They had 10 hits, including one from every spot in the lineup; they dropped three sacrifice bunts, and Craig Gentry beat out one more for an RBI single; they stole two bases and had one sacrifice fly; they were 4-for-15 with runners in scoring position.
"We've played good baseball for this homestand, and today you saw how we played," outfielder Alex Rios said. "We did the little things. We moved guys over, who were able to pick each other up, and we played as a team. When you do that, you have a pretty good chance to do well. It was a very fun game. Actually, it was the most fun I've had in a while."
Holland, despite having a four-run lead after two, just couldn't stay around long enough to get the victory. Mike Trout's sacrifice fly made it 5-2 in the third. Holland retired the side in order in the fourth, but he couldn't get through the fifth.
The Angels got one run when Andrew Romine singled, went to third on a double by Erick Aybar and scored on Collin Cowgill's grounder. Holland struck out Trout, but Kendrick doubled home Aybar to make it a one-run game. That was it for Holland as manager Ron Washington brought in right-hander Joakim Soria.
"At least we got the win, but things just weren't going my way," Holland said. "I was battling, but I didn't have command of my pitches. I was determined not to go down. The next time I'll do better out there, but today it was mainly command."
The bullpen saved him as Soria struck out Mark Trumbo to end the inning, and the Rangers padded their lead with two more in the bottom of the fifth. Soria walked two in the sixth but got out of the jam by getting Aybar on a grounder to second after an 11-pitch at-bat.
Robbie Ross pitched a scoreless seventh and Tanner Scheppers did the same in the eighth, retiring the side in order on seven pitches.
"The bullpen came in and did what they've done for a long time now," Pierzynski said. "Derek pitched OK. He kept us in the game, he left with the lead and that's all you can ask for from a starter pitcher."
That left Nathan for the ninth. He retired the first two hitters, gave up a double to pinch-hitter Josh Hamilton and, as the rain came pouring down, walked Trout. But he was able to strike out Kendrick, and the Rangers are back in control of their fate.
"It doesn't change what we need to do," Nathan said. "We've got to come in and win again. We don't want to rely on somebody else. We have to take care of business with the same intensity and not let down. If we win, we still have more baseball left to play."
That's what it comes down to in a week unlike no other in the history of the Rangers. This will be the first time in Rangers history that it comes down to the final day to decide if they are in the playoffs or if they stay home.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.