ARLINGTON, Texas -- After a grinding stretch when the Texas Rangers lost nine of their last 13 games, and the AL West crown in the process, manager Ron Washington gave his players the day off yesterday.
They get a chance to start fresh today.
One chance -- or the season will be over for the two-time defending American League champions long before another World Series. "I don't feel any different," Washington said. "Other than the fact we have an opportunity to get back in the playoffs if we win a ball game."
Still, the team that twice came within a strike of winning last year's World Series, never expected to be in this kind of postseason situation.
Instead of winning another division title, after being in first place for 178 days this season, Texas hosts a winner-take-all AL wild-card game tonight against Baltimore and former manager Buck Showalter.
Yu Darvish makes his MLB postseason debut for the Rangers against the only AL team the righthander from Japan didn't face this season. Lefty Joe Saunders, a late-season acquisition by the Orioles, has never won at Rangers Ballpark. The winner goes on to play the Yankees, another of Showalter's former employers, in the ALDS and will host the first two games.
Baltimore is in the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. Showalter dismissed any notion that it means more to him getting to face Texas, where he managed for four years and then was replaced by Washington after the 2006 season.
"For our players and organization to get an opportunity, it's rewarding," Showalter said. "We're trying to do everything possible to get back to Baltimore."