ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Rangers designated hitter, infielder and team leader Michael Young sat in a reclining chair in the visiting clubhouse at Tropicana Field before Wednesday's game, relieved he'd be heading home a few hours later.
The Rangers were completing the most difficult three-week stretch of the second half -- perhaps the season -- and doing so with their slight cushion in the AL West intact.
"You work in spring training to be able to control your destiny at this time of year," Young said. "We've worked really hard and we've played extremely hard over a really tough stretch of games and it's right in front of us now. We just have to go out and take care of business."
Despite losing to the Rays in walk-off fashion Wednesday following a ninth-inning rally that tied the score, the Rangers sat 2½ games ahead of the Angels in the AL West when they woke up for a much-needed day off Thursday.
The Rangers just completed a three-week stretch against some of the tougher teams in the AL, a stretch that started when they departed for Anaheim on Aug. 16.
After that series, Young remembers how he felt when he got off a plane from Anaheim to Chicago shortly before dawn broke on Aug. 19. The Rangers had just lost to the Angels on Mark Trumbo's walk-off home run, yet still took three of four games from their closest pursuers and held a six-game lead.
They knew the next three weeks wouldn't be easy against some stiff competition.
"I think that travel from Anaheim to Chicago zapped us a little bit," said Young, whose team lost two of three in that series and returned home to face the Red Sox. "We beat Boston the first game, and they come out like the '27 Yankees and beat us the next three nights. With Anaheim coming to town, we didn't need to say anything. We knew what we had to do."
Young and other club leaders didn't feel the need to call a team meeting. Neither did the manager. Instead, the Rangers believed they would rally and move past a stretch of losing six of eight games that started with that Trumbo homer.
"There's no reason to say something that everybody knows," Young said. "We believe in ourselves. Sometimes meetings are overblown. People think every time you have a tough stretch that you need a meeting. You don't all the time. We have those when we think we need them. We're a good team and we communicate with each other well. We're always on the same page. We're not going to talk to hear our voices."
Young did say something in the advance meeting prior to the Angels series, reminding the hitters that complaining about the heat was just an excuse. They had some big home games and had to figure out a way to deal with the high temperatures. They did.
The Rangers took two of three from the Angels, defeating them 9-5 on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball to deny Los Angeles a chance to pull within one game and really ratchet up the pressure. Instead, the Rangers took a three-game lead and have basically held it since. They took two of three from Tampa Bay at home before winning a three-game series with the high-octane offense of the Red Sox in Fenway Park over the weekend. Left-handers Matt Harrison and Derek Holland provided the wins, shutting down Boston's talented lineup.
They lost two of three in Tampa, but even after Wednesday's loss, manager Ron Washington was able to look at the big picture.
"You want to try and win every series and, although we lost today, we had a chance to win it," Washington said. "I'm very happy with the way we're playing. Just have to go home and get going again."
The mission for the Rangers now is to keep plugging ahead against division foes. Texas is 19-7 against Oakland and Seattle and face both of those teams in 12 of the next 15 before the final three-game set in Anaheim.
Ian Kinsler, who hit two home runs in Wednesday's game, including the tying shot in the ninth, believes last year's stretch drive and playoff run has helped the Rangers avoid long losing streaks in the second half and bounce back from some rough patches.
"The race wasn't as tight last year, but we gained a lot of experience from the playoffs and the push toward the end to clinch it," Kinsler said. "It felt like it took us forever to clinch. So I think we learned a lot."
He said the fact that the team held its own this summer despite so many 100-plus degree days shows its resiliency.
"It's been a hot summer," Kinsler said. "We were able to manage it very well. We were smart about it. That has a lot to do with character of this team and the mix of veterans and young players that we have. We have a good mix and that helps when the dog days are there and you're dealing with 106 every day and it's tough to get your energy up."
The Rangers expect the Angels to hang around and, of course, they are scoreboard watching like everyone else. But they know they're in position to determine their postseason fate, having been in first place since May 16 and in first by themselves since July 6.
"This is the best part of the year next to the postseason," Young said. "We know what we need to do. Now we just have to go do it."
Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.