A few minutes later, the fireworks lit up the Texas sky as the Rangers wore fresh AL West championship T-shirts and celebrated their second consecutive division title with several thousand fans who stayed to wait and watch with them.
Texas trimmed its magic number to one with a 5-3 victory over the Seattle Mariners when Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre hit long home runs before Craig Gentry had an inside-the-park homer. The Rangers still needed a loss by the chasing Los Angeles Angels to clinch the division, which came about two hours later.
Los Angeles was already down 1-0 going into the fourth inning at home against Oakland when Texas (91-66) ended its game.
When David DeJesus hit a solo homer for Oakland in the top of the ninth for a 3-1 lead, what would be the final score, fans in Texas watching the huge video screen erupted. Andrus took off on his trot and then slid into home plate surrounded by his teammates.
“Elvis called it before it even happened. That was pretty funny,” Michael Young said. “That’s our moment. We were in our ballpark. … Usually you kind of have a point where you can dogpile on your field, celebrate, come up here (in the clubhouse) and have a party. We weren’t sure how this was going to work out, but you have 10,000 people in your home park sticking around, it made it pretty sweet. We wouldn’t have written it up any other way.”
It is the fifth division title for the Rangers, who last year went to their first World Series.
The Rangers were in Oakland last season when they clinched their first AL West crown since 1999. They had never won a playoff series before beating Tampa Bay in the AL divisional series and the New York Yankees in the AL championship series last October. San Francisco won the World Series in five games.
“At the end of the World Series last year after the Giants beat us, we stood in this room and we committed ourselves to get back here and get another opportunity,” manager Ron Washington said in the middle of the clubhouse celebration. “Tonight is what we did, we gave ourselves another opportunity.”
Rangers fans clapped and cheered on each of the Angels’ outs in the bottom of the ninth. Many of the players disappeared into the dugout when the second out was made, then came back after the final out wearing new T-shirts and sprayed ginger ale on each other and some of the fans. That was reminiscent of last year, when they did that in deference to Hamilton’s well-documented substance abuse problems.
Division championship T-shirts and caps were immediately available for fans to buy, too. The team kept the doors open until 2 a.m. at three of its gift shops _ at Rangers Ballpark and stores in downtown Dallas and Fort Worth.
“It’s great. Now we have the opportunity to win a World Series,” said Young, the team’s longest-tenured player in his 11th season. “It’s been incredible so far. We’re looking forward to the next step.”
A banner declaring their 2011 division championship was unfurled high above center field soon after the Angels lost.
Texas still has five games left in the regular season, including three next week in Los Angeles for the final series.
The playoffs are set to begin next Friday. The Rangers are tied with AL Central champ Detroit for the second-best record, but would have to finish a game ahead of the Tigers to get home-field advantage in the playoffs and avoid a likely divisional series opener at New York against the Yankees.