ARLINGTON, Texas -- The plastic covering the locker stalls was nowhere to be found. Neither was the Champagne. The luxurious chairs usually found in the middle of the clubhouse had been removed. The coffee table too.
After all, the Texas Rangers had a four-run lead heading into the ninth inning Saturday afternoon at Globe Life Park, and there was nothing wrong with anticipating a wild Champagne-and-ski-goggle party in their clubhouse celebrating their apparent American League West championship.
Well, the Rangers must wait another day to party after an epic ninth-inning collapse that surely brought back all of the ugly memories for their fan base regarding Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.
This Saturday, three times the Rangers needed one strike to beat the Los Angeles Angels, but they couldn't get it done as the Angels rallied for five runs in the ninth inning. Los Angeles 11, Texas 10.
"It's a tough loss. A tough one," Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "You go into the ninth inning winning by four and you end up losing the game, but you know what? We have another one to play tomorrow. There's nothing we can do about this one now."
The Rangers have clinched a playoff spot, and ever after losing this game, they still lead the AL West by 1 1/2 games over the Houston Astros. They can claim the division title if the Astros lose later Saturday night. The Angels trail the Astros by a half-game for the second AL wild card.
A loss would have ended the Angels' season. Instead, they became only the second team in 977 games this season to win after trailing by four runs at any point in the ninth inning. The Angels will start Garrett Richards (15-11, 3.62 ERA) on three days' rest Sunday in hopes of forcing their way into the playoffs.
"What I love about these guys is that they just play the situation as it's presented to them," Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia said. "Obviously being down four runs in the ninth inning is not a good situation, but we kept scrapping and clawing and got a bunch of big hits all the way around."
The Rangers, as you would expect, said all of the right things about bouncing back from adversity and moving on after a tough loss. The players talked about their confidence in Cole Hamels, acquired at the trade deadline, for moments just like this.
Texas needs him to pitch seven or eight innings because the Rangers' vaunted bullpen is shot. Sam Dyson, who handled the eighth inning, has pitched in five consecutive games for the first time in his career. Closer Shawn Tolleson allowed homers to the only two batters he faced in the ninth inning and has also appeared in five straight games.
Keone Kela, who made his first appearance since Tuesday, threw eight pitches and faced two batters in the seventh inning. Kela has been battling elbow stiffness and told manager Jeff Banister he couldn't pitch in the eighth inning. Jake Diekman, who pitched 2/3 of an inning, is the only fresh reliever of the four pitchers Banister relies on to finish games.
Ross Ohlendorf replaced Tolleson in the ninth and immediately retired Mike Trout, bringing Albert Pujols to the plate. Pujols lofted a soft fly ball into short-right field that first baseman Mike Napoli and second baseman Rougned Odor chased.
Odor appeared to call for the ball, but they collided along the right-field line, and the ball hit Napoli's glove initially before popping out of Odor's glove as Pujols wound up at second base. Former Ranger David Murphy struck out, but the Angels strung together four consecutive singles to grab the lead.
"We had a four-run lead and a guy [Tolleson] in the game that had been so good for us," Banister said, "but we could tell early on it was going to be a challenge for him, so we decided to get Ohlendorf in the game.
"We were a strike away three different times. Ohlendorf made some good pitches, but in those situations good pitches aren't good enough."
Still, the Rangers nearly had a chance to tie the score in the bottom of the ninth. Elvis Andrus reached on a two-out single to center and appeared to steal second base. His foot disengaged from the base during his head-first slide, and shortstop Erick Aybar tagged him out, pumping his right fist in the air as his teammates streamed out of the dugout.
Andrus lay face-first in the infield dirt for several moments. Somewhere, the Champagne remains on ice.