Commentary

Relentless Rangers celebrate West title

Division champions believe in themselves and are playing their best at winning time

Updated: September 24, 2011, 11:43 AM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Texas Rangers waited more than an hour after their 5-3 win over the Seattle Mariners at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington to celebrate their AL West title.

There was nothing anticlimactic about it.

The joy. The exhilaration. The hugs.

Nope, you couldn't see any difference in the way the Rangers celebrated on the field in front of about 10,000 fans who stayed to watch the Oakland Athletics beat the Los Angeles Angels, which gave the Rangers their second consecutive divisional title, and their celebration in Oakland last season.

[+] EnlargeMichael Young and Elvis Andrus
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezMichael Young and Elvis Andrus celebrate winning the American League West championship.
After an on-field ginger ale celebration -- C.J. Wilson and Josh Hamilton don't drink alcohol -- the Rangers, clad in their gray championship T-shirts and matching hats, took a victory lap to mingle with the fans (some of whom Matt Treanor had already showered with the cold, sticky liquid).

It was cool to watch the Rangers share the moment with their fans and families, who were treated to a fireworks show after the game while the A's-Angels game was shown on the video board.

After beating Seattle, the players gradually joined their families on the field. When L.A.'s Howie Kendrick flied out to right field with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the eighth, several Rangers pumped their fists and raised their arms to celebrate.

That's about the time Michael Young encouraged the crowd to get louder, which wasn't hard for a group that spent the ninth inning on their feet in anticipation.

When David DeJesus homered off Jered Weaver to lead off the top of the ninth in Anaheim, Elvis Andrus sprinted around the infield -- the bases had been removed -- as though he had homered, and about 10 of his teammates met him at home plate to celebrate as the crowd cheered loudly.

"We want to get back to the World Series," manager Ron Washington said, "and the way to do that is to get into the playoffs. I'm not saying we'll get to the World Series again, but now we have the opportunity."

The Rangers had sole possession of first place for 117 of the last 119 days, including the last 79. Their lead never dipped below 1.5 games in September, and they've played their best baseball at winning time. Since the All-Start break, Texas is 40-24, including 14-6 in September.

But the Rangers won the AL West because they dominated the division, going 35-17, while the Angels went 26-26.

The Rangers answered every charge the Angels made this season because this team expects to win.

Every day.

The Rangers' belief was born in 2009, when they battled the Angels through the end of September, but injuries to Josh Hamilton and Michael Young prevented them from overtaking the Angels.

Last season, the Rangers left no doubt they were among the AL's best teams. Nothing changed this season.

"In 2009, we had the right group, we just fell a little short," Young said. "But we proved to ourselves that we had what it took to compete in a pennant race.

"Now, we know we're a good team. We know how to make adjustments, and when something doesn't go right, we know how to fix it. We don't need to have a lot of team meetings and talk about stuff, we just go out and play baseball -- and we play hard every day."

Young gives this club its soul because he's the same guy every day, whether he goes 5-for-5 or 0-for-5. Or whether the team has won 10 straight or lost five in a row.

Every good team takes on the personality of its manager, so we shouldn't be surprised at the way the Rangers play.

They're relentless.

The Rangers pressure opposing teams with a lineup that had Nelson Cruz with his 28 homers and 85 RBIs hitting seventh. This lineup wears down pitchers.

They pressure opposing teams on the bases, where they rank among the league leaders in going from first to third and rank fourth in the AL with 135 stolen bases.

And they pressure teams to grab an early lead because Washington has a multitude of options in the sixth and seventh innings before he gives the ball to Mike Adams in the eighth inning and Neftali Feliz in the ninth.

"This team never listened to its critics," GM Jon Daniels said. "We can pitch. We can hit. We can play defense. We're versatile."

The good news: if the Rangers win the ALDS, they won't have to wait to celebrate.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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