ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — The Texas Rangers had to keep winning to keep playing. After seven wins in a row, they have to do it one more time to get into the playoffs.
Craig Gentry had a key two-run single, Geovany Soto had a tiebreaking RBI double and a solo homer, and the Rangers beat the Los Angeles Angels 6-2 Sunday to force a one-game tiebreaker for the second AL wild-card spot.
“They showed heart, fight, gut — any other adjective you want to find,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said.
The Rangers (91-71), who began September with the AL West lead before a 5-15 slide, added game No. 163 to the regular season. They will host Tampa Bay on Monday night in baseball’s first wild-card tiebreaker since 2007. The winner plays two days later at wild-card leader Cleveland for a berth against Boston in the division series.
“You can’t say enough. Just the fight, the character of this team,” Gentry said. “From being about as low as we could possibly be and almost everybody probably counting us out, and to come home and play the way we have.”
Rookie left-hander Martin Perez (10-5, 3.55 ERA) starts for Texas on Monday against Tampa Bay and lefty David Price (9-8).
About the same time Tampa Bay wrapped up its 7-6 win at Toronto to necessitate a victory by the Rangers, Gentry hit a two-run single in the fifth for a 2-1 lead.
Los Angeles quickly tied the game in the sixth against major league strikeout leader Yu Darvish, but the Rangers went ahead to stay in the bottom half on Soto’s two-out double.
Adrian Beltre and Soto added solo homers in the eighth. It was Beltre’s 30th and the ninth for Soto, who has become the primary catcher for Darvish.
Texas has been in the playoffs the past three seasons, last year losing at home to Baltimore with Darvish on the mound in the AL’s first one-and-done wild-card game.
With a chance to get back in the postseason for the fourth year in a row, they will get back Nelson Cruz. The All-Star slugger on Sunday completed his 50-game suspension that followed Major League Baseball’s investigation of the Biogenesis anti-aging clinic, which was accused of distributing banned performance-enhancing drugs.
General manager Jon Daniels said Cruz, who has been playing in the instructional league in Arizona the past two weeks, will be activated for Monday’s game. The Rangers were 29-21 without Cruz, who has 27 homers and 76 RBIs this season.
“I’ll have a chance tomorrow to be with me teammates and do the thing I love the most, play baseball,” said Cruz, who went 9 for 27 with five doubles, a homer and nine RBIs in eight games in Arizona. “The guys are excited. I’m excited.”
Asked whether he expected to play Monday, Cruz responded, “I think so.”
The Angels (78-84) finished with a losing record for only the second time in 10 seasons after being swept in a four-game series at Texas for the first time since June 1978.
“You have to tip your cap to those guys. They played well and stayed alive,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “Our guys played as well as they could. It would have been nice to come in here and get some wins. .. I’m disappointed, but there’s nothing to be ashamed about the way we went after them. Those guys brought their game up a notch, and we’re going home.”
Neal Cotts (8-3) replaced Darvish in the sixth and allowed the tying hit, but struck out Howie Kendrick for the inning-ending out with runners on first and third.
Robbie Ross, Tanner Scheppers and Joe Nathan each pitched a scoreless inning after that.
When the Rangers started their game, Tampa Bay already led 7-0 at Toronto. Then Mike Trout homered to put the Angels up 1-0.
Darvish struck out eight in 5 2-3 innings. But for the sixth time this season, and second game in a row, Darvish immediately gave up the lead a half-inning after the Rangers went ahead.
The right-hander from Japan finished with a majors-leading 277 strikeouts, the most since Randy Johnson had 290 for Arizona in 2004. The last AL pitcher with more was Pedro Martinez with 284 for Boston in 2000.
Darvish had retired 11 in a row after a one-out walk in the second, and a mound visit from Washington, pitching coach Mike Maddux, a trainer and Darvish’s interpreter to check on him.
A.J. Pierzynski had a leadoff double in the fifth and Soto walked before an errant pickoff throw by Jason Vargas (9-8) moved both of them up a base. They scored on the single up the middle by Gentry, the No. 8 hitter who is 17 for 36 his last 10 games.
There was a reverse double play in the Angels sixth — J.B. Shuck hit a grounder to second baseman Ian Kinsler, who ran back Andrew Romine before throwing to first baseman Mitch Moreland, who had to make a quick throw to shortstop Elvis Andrus to tag out Romine. But Darvish then gave up a single to Erick Aybar and walked Trout on four pitches.
Cotts, the left-hander whose 1.13 ERA is the lowest ever for a Texas reliever, gave up an tying RBI single to Josh Hamilton, who finished with a 14-game hitting streak — his longest in his Angels debut after the previous five years with the Rangers.
“It is disappointing,” Hamilton said. “They had something to play for, and we wanted to try to help them stumble.”
NOTES: Beltre had a two-out single and scored on Soto’s go-ahead hit in the sixth. … Gentry singled and scored in the seventh…. Trout’s 27th homer was his 190th hit, making the 22-year-old only the third major leaguer since 1900 with 190 hits, 100 walks and 30 stolen bases in the same season. The others are Ty Cobb in 1915 and Lenny Dykstra in 1993.