Rangers, Orioles play do-or-die wild card game in Arlington

The Texas Rangers are back in the postseason for a third straight season. But, it may not be the way they wanted it.

Texas was denied its third straight American League West title and a chance at the top overall record in the league on Wednesday, as it was swept by Oakland, capping an epic turnaround for the Athletics.

"I'm not frustrated, I'm just disappointed," manager Ron Washington said. "We played all year to win a division and we didn't get it done. Especially the way it happened, it's disappointing. We put our backs to the wall and we have to win one game. We're capable of winning one game. If we can do that, you never know what will happen."

Now, if the Rangers are going to make a third straight World Series appearance, they will have to win a one-game wild card playoff game against the Baltimore Orioles at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

Under the new format the two wild card teams will play one game with the winner advancing to the ALDS and hosting the AL East champion New York Yankees in the first two games of the best-of-five set starting Sunday.

The Rangers had been in first place since April 8 and led Oakland by 13 games after finishing off a sweep of them back on June 30. The gritty A's clawed their way back, though, and the Rangers lost nine of their final 13 games to seal their fate.

"We have to shake it off," Rangers outfielder David Murphy said. "It's not going to be an easy one to shake off, but we don't have the luxury of hanging our heads and feeling sorry for ourselves. We put ourselves in this position."

Texas will hand the ball to rookie right-hander Yu Darvish, who was 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA in his first year since coming over from Japan. Darvish was particularly effective down the stretch for the Rangers, going 5-1 with a 2.35 ERA in his last eight starts.

"Of course, I'm ready," said Darvish, who did not face the Orioles this season. "If I wasn't ready, I wouldn't be named to pitch that game. I'm just going to try to approach it like any other start and try to win."

Darvish, of course, was a superstar in Japan for the Nippon Ham Fighters, pitching to a 1.99 ERA over seven years and twice was named the Pacific League's Most Valuable Player.

"The guy was under tremendous pressure," Washington said. "He had to learn everything and make adjustments. It took him some time, but he found it."

An All-Star by way of the final vote in the AL, Darvish ended up fifth in the league with 221 strikeouts and opponents hit .220 off of him, the third lowest in the league.

"I'm going to treat it like any other game," Darvish said.

While the Rangers may not be happy having to play this extra game, you won't hear the people in Baltimore complaining, as the Orioles are back in the postseason for the first time since 1997.

"We are just going to hang our heads and mope into Texas," Orioles slugger Davis joked. "Of course we're excited. This is the first time this team has been to the postseason in 15 years. This organization has to be excited. We're ready to go."

Buck Showalter's group finished 93-69 and still had a chance to win an American League East title up until the final day of the season. The O's though, closed the regular season by losing two of three to the Tampa Bay Rays.

"I told our guys how proud I am just to be associated with this bunch; they're a baseball-playing bunch of guys," Showalter said of his club, which won just 69 games last season. "They'll let it rip in Texas, and it won't be from timidness. I can tell you that."

Playing away from home won't intimidate an Orioles team that had an AL-best 46 road wins, although they went 1-2 in Texas and lost the season series, 5-2.

"I'm looking at (it as) half-full," Showalter added. "We've got an opportunity, and it's there for us in nine innings."

The Orioles will hand the ball to lefty Joe Saunders on Friday rather than rookie Steve Johnson. Saunders was 3-3 with a 3.63 ERA in seven starts for the O's after being acquired from Arizona.

"I've said many times this year, the No. 1 starter is the guy pitching that day," Showalter said. "Our whole rotation has been the sum of the parts, and Joe has pitched well for us since he's been here. He's got (a) tough task ahead of him."

Saunders, though, is just 3-7 lifetime against the Rangers with a 6.48 ERA and is 0-6 in six starts in Arlington with a 9.38 ERA. He's also allowed 13 home runs there in 31 2/3 innings pitched.

"You can make numbers look any way you want to," Showalter said. "If you are looking for pitchers with good numbers against the Texas Rangers, they are hard to find. Regardless of who pitches tomorrow, we are going to have to pitch well and do some things out of the bullpen and swing the bats well. ... It's an opportunity for Joe. He's pitched some good games, too."

Texas has never faced the Orioles in the playoffs.