The Texas Rangers cleared their final regular-season hurdle Friday night.
Their 3-1 victory against the Tampa Bay Rays at Globe Life Park clinched home-field advantage for however long they stay alive in the postseason. That includes the World Series, since the American League won the All-Star Game in July.
The Rangers will host the winner of the wild-card game for the first two games of the American League Division Series on Thursday and Friday. Game 3 is scheduled for Oct. 9 in the opponent’s park, along with Game 4, if necessary, on Oct. 10. Game 5, if necessary, would be Oct. 12 back at Globe Life Park. No start times have been set.
The Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles, both winners Friday, occupy the two wild-card spots. They both have a 1 1/2 lead on the Detroit Tigers with two games remaining.
It’s the first time the Rangers, at 95-65, will finish at least tied for the best record in the American League. The Boston Red Sox, who lost to the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday night, can finish with no more than 94 wins. The AL Central champ Cleveland Indians can finish with no more than 95 wins.
The Rangers did not have home-field advantage in their two previous trips to the World Series, both of which ended in defeat.
Yu Darvish struck out a season-high 12 batters and left with a 3-1 lead after six innings.
“He was extremely aggressive in the zone with a good hard fastball,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. “The secondary stuff was swing and miss against a very aggressively swinging club. I think there’s still another step for him, another gear, but a very impressive night for him.”
After a lead-off walk and run-scoring double pulled the Rays within 2-1 in the sixth, Darvish struck out the next three hitters swinging on a combined 13 pitches. He finished off Jaff Decker on three pitches, including a 75 mph slider to end the inning. Darvish roaring with excitement as he came off the mound.
“If I give up a single, it’s a tie game, so of course, I got emotional at that point,” said Darvish, who had 10 or more strikeouts for the 28th time in his first-career 100 starts, second only to Dwight Gooden’s 31. Nolan Ryan’s 34 games with 10 or more strikeout is the Rangers’ record.
“We’ve seen that throughout his starts in different key situations,” Banister said. “This is a passionate guy who wants to win. He’s an elite competitor, and we saw that tonight. It’s nice to see him let that out. It’s been fun to watch a guy who I know is such a rock star to be emotional and kind of vulnerable. Inside, he wants to win and he wants to win desperately.”
Rougned Odor homered in the bottom of the sixth to stretch the Rangers’ lead to 3-1. It’s Odor’s team-leading 33rd homer. Adrian Beltre’s run-scoring single in the first and Carlos Beltran’s solo homer in the third staked Darvish with a 2-0 lead. He improved to 7-5.
The bullpen set a club record of 29 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings with three shutout innings of relief behind Darvish. The previous record was 28 1/3 scoreless innings in 2008. Tony Barnette and Jake Diekman combined in the seventh inning, Matt Bush pitched a perfect eighth and Sam Dyson closed it out to earn his 38th save.
The Rangers now have two extra days — Saturday and Sunday — to give some regulars some rest, work certain bullpen relievers no matter the score as they prepare for the postseason.
“We’ll take a look with where we’re at and who needs the rest,” said Banister, who is already leery of the three days off before Thursday.
“You’re looking at five straight days. It’s not like you just unplug and replug,” he said. “There are some guys sitting on the bench that need to get some at-bats also and need to see some live pitching and need to get into the competitive atmosphere.”
Rangers vs. Rays
7:05 p.m. Saturday, FSSW