I’ve written several posts over the last month and a half, some based on probability, others sticking strictly to the facts — what we know. It is true, on June 30th the Rangers owned a 13.0 game lead on the Oakland A’s in the American League West, a lead that has finally shrunk all the way down to the nonexistent figure of zero. Only, it’s not so nonexistent; it’s real. It’s very real. And today the Rangers are playing those same Oakland Athletics in a winner-take-all game to crown the 2012 AL West division champion.
In a way, it all feels more like a dream, like how could the Rangers possibly give away a 5.0 game lead with 14 left to play? This, the mighty 2012 Texas Rangers, the team that has dwarfed over its western rivals in the standings 175 days and running. For the last couple months it’s seemed like they’ve sleepwalked their way into taking two out of three in every series, games lacking the typical Rangers panache and signature moments. It’s almost as if the regular season was just a dress rehearsal before the main October show. And they just happened to be better at it than everyone else.
Then, for reasons no one in the baseball universe knew or could possibly foresee, the A’s decided to become a part of the main attraction.
Last weekend, owning a 4.0 game lead with 6 to play, the Rangers were desperately trying to fend off the Angels, who were still fighting for their own playoff lives. The A’s went back to Oakland to face the Mariners, beginning the final home stand of their season the same time the Rangers were concluding their own. It proved to be a toxic chain of scheduling, as the Rangers lost on Friday, with the A’s winning. Oakland won again on Saturday while the Rangers and Angels were rained out, cutting the division lead to 2.5. The panic level was creeping up at arm’s length, but Texas remained in the driver’s seat. In the first game of the Sunday double-header, a matchup largely controlled by the Rangers, the Angels found a way to scrape off two runs in the 9th inning at the expense of Joe Nathan, giving them a 5-4 victory, and the most untimely of Nathan’s three blown saves on the season. And, after Oakland completed their sweep of the Mariners, the Rangers did everything they could just to salvage an 8-7 win of their own in the 2nd game, maintaining the division lead at 2.0 heading into the final series of the season in Oakland.
And, well, I think if you’re reading this you understand how the first two games went.
There’s no magic formula to Oakland’s success. They’ve done it the old-fashion way: good pitching, timely hitting. It’s the type of paradigm you expect to see from a good team. And, to be fair, the Rangers have just failed at each of those down the stretch.
If you’ve been familiar with my articles this year, you probably haven’t had to read too deeply to understand the confidence I have in the Rangers. I’ve maintained all season, through Michael Young’s ineptitude, Josh Hamilton’s helter-skelter-like production, two-fifths of the rotation going down, and Ron Washington’s blatant mishandling of the roster/lineups, that the Rangers are still the best team in baseball. Even as I write this, I still believe that.
But even with this rough patch down the stretch, I’m still far from calling this a complete collapse. It doesn’t feel like a collapse inasmuch a slow, quiet, unsuspecting erosion, like a glacier sliding down the side of a mountain. The problem with glaciers is that they eventually turn into avalanches, and I’m just hoping we won’t have to witness that.
Today, for the 1st time since 1996 when the Padres faced off against the Dodgers, a division championship will be decided on the final day of the regular season. The Rangers rest their hopes in the capable hands of veteran trade deadline acquisition Ryan Dempster, while the A’s send rookie A.J. Griffin to the bump.
I don’t know exactly how we got here, but we’re here now. Whether it’s momentum, a slump, sabermetrics, probabilities, practicalities, whatever, none of it matters today. It’s one game. Rangers. Athletics. And one will be popping American League West champagne when the day is over.
As a sports fan, and more specifically, as a Rangers fan, this is the type of stuff you live for. So enjoy it.