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LAND -- The Rangers are back in the playoffs for the third straight year. They just didn't get there the way they expected. They didn't get there the way they did last season by winning 10 of their last 11 games and going in as division champions.
Instead the Rangers are going in as a Wild Card team and they are doing so in the first season that Major League Baseball is going to the new format. Instead of one Wild Card team, there are now two, and the Rangers need to win a one-game playoff against the Orioles on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. CT on TBS at the Ballpark in Arlington.
The Rangers put themselves in position by losing three straight to the Athletics this week in Oakland. The Rangers could have clinched a division title with one victory, but the Athletics took it away with a 12-5 victory on Wednesday.
"Now we have to win that playoff game," catcher Mike Napoli said. "Obviously, it's tough. They got it done and we didn't, plain and simple. It's going to be a tough road. We have to win a playoff game and go from there."
The Rangers go into Friday's game having lost nine of their past 13 games. They need to figure out a way to get this thing turned around quickly or they could be spending the weekend -- actually the rest of October -- watching ballgames on television.
"The one thing we've learned about the postseason the past few years is momentum can shift from pitch to pitch and play to play, hit to hit," infielder Michael Young said. "We can get that going in our direction real quickly. We'll be ready to go on Friday."
Being a Wild Card team is hardly the kiss of death. There have been five teams that entered the playoffs on a Wild Card berth and ended up winning the World Series. The Cardinals were one of those teams when they beat the Rangers in seven games last October.
"The opportunity is still there," manager Ron Washington said. "We just have to go out and play our style of baseball. We haven't done that lately."
Whether it's by winning the division or by going as a Wild Card team, it has long been understood that making the playoffs is only the first step for the Rangers. It's a big step, but it's hardly one that will satisfy the Rangers, their ownership group or their fans.
The Rangers have a bigger goal in mind, one that has eluded them the past two years. Well, actually it has eluded them for four decades in Texas, but nobody is dwelling on the 1981 team that just missed the playoffs or the late 1990s teams that couldn't get past the Yankees.
That's ancient history in Rangers years. What everybody remembers now is the Rangers have been in the World Series for two straight years and couldn't finish it off. They lost to the Giants in five games in 2010 and the Cardinals in seven games in 2011 when they were ...
One strike away. Twice.
Those words haunt the Rangers far more than anything that happened this week in Oakland. Winning the World Series might wash all past disappoints down the drain. That ultimate goal is not out of reach.
"We have something we need to do this year and we believe we have the team to do it," third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "There is nothing we can do about last year. We feel we have a great team and we can do what we set out to do. This is a better team than last year ... more experienced."
Experience and history are also reminders that just getting to the World Series is a praise-worthy accomplishment. The Rangers were the first American League team to go two years in a row since the Yankees' four-year run from 1998-2001. The Yankees have been to the Fall Classic just twice since then in 2003 and 2009. The last American League team outside the Yankees to repeat was the 1992-93 Blue Jays. They won two straight World Series, but haven't even been in the playoffs since then.
"We're not looking ahead," Young said. "This is a team that is focused on the task at hand. We focus on the game that day. We've been through too much the past few years. We've had many big wins and tough losses. We don't let anything get to us. We know what it takes."
The Yankees' dynasty remains unparalleled in sports history. The Yankees have had eight different runs where they went to the World Series three or more straight years. Among the rest of the league, the Athletics have done it three times and the Orioles and Tigers have done it once each. The Tigers did it in 1907-09 with Ty Cobb and are the only American League team to go to three straight World Series without winning it once.
The National League hasn't had a team go to three straight World Series since the Cardinals in 1942-44. It has only happened three other times: the Giants in 1921-24 and 1911-13, and the Cubs in 1906-08.
The Rangers found out this season how hard it is to win three straight division titles, much less go to the World Series. They fell short of winning the division. But a third straight World Series is still on the table.
"It has been a tough year," Washington said. "We have had a lot of injuries and inconsistencies, but we're still finding a way to get things done. Trying to win a division for a third time is not easy. People thought we were going to have a hangover from the World Series. We didn't have a hangover. Now we have to grind it out. I feel we will. We've always found a way. We expect to win.
"Luck certainly hasn't been on our side. I do believe everything we got this year we earned. As we go forward, it looks like we're going to have to earn everything. That's fine, too. We've got make our own luck."