Rangers' clubhouse a happy, bubbly place for everyone
By Gil LeBreton
OAKLAND, Calif. - In the center of the room, team captain Michael Young, soaked in champagne, was asked to reflect on the day, 10 years ago, that he became a member of the Texas Rangers.
"I'm just glad I'm a Ranger 10 years later," Young began.
"This is a place I'm proud to call home. I'm happy to still be around to see this."
"This" was the celebration, a party 11 years in the making.
A bubbly gala that was 11 years, four managers and one anxiety-filled bankruptcy hearing in the making, to be exact.
The magic number is zero. Jorge Cantu is forever a part of Rangers folklore. The West has been won.
And a lot like Michael Young, there were Rangers fans Saturday night who were just glad to still be alive to see it.
The clinching victory turned out to be a game that was a lot like the season - minus the bankruptcy lawyers. The Rangers' bullpen survived a game-tying home run in the seventh. Cantu - whose two-month struggle had given birth to a new baseball statistic, the None Batted In - cracked the game-winning, division-deciding, solo home run.
And then manager Ron Washington gave the ball to young closer Neftali Feliz, who sent down 98-mph lightning bolts for the final four outs.
In the end, the Rangers' clincher was all about faith - the faith that Washington had in Cantu to start him at first base in this key series. The faith that Washington seems to have in every member of his bullpen.
"I believed in him," Washington said of Cantu, who had three hits and, finally, two RBIs in the biggest game of the season.
And the supporting cast ran even deeper. Ian Kinsler and Julio Borbon each contributed two hits. Elvis Andrus stole a vital base in the seventh inning that transformed into a Rangers run. And Young had two hits, including his 21st homer of the season.
"It's just a great feeling of relief," new owner Chuck Greenberg said amidst the clubhouse celebration.
"I just feel so happy and proud for all these guys - the way they battled all year. The way they stayed focused, with all the other stuff that was going on, shows what professionals they are."
Greenberg was referring to the stormy, litigious way in which the club changed hands in early August.
On Saturday, it all seemed a blur. A champagne-and-cigar smoke-enveloped fog.
The growing pains. The shuffle at first base. The pitching disappointments. The pitching successes. The slumps. The streaks. The trades, not only the jackpots but also the duds.
As of Saturday, the slate is clean. Washington and his coaches can turn the page to the playoffs, something a Rangers manager hasn't been able to do since 1999.
"After the dreams we had, this is quite an accomplishment for everybody - the whole organization," Washington said. "We put ourselves on the spot from the beginning because of our expectations."
The manager paused, and his voice seemed to buckle for an instant under the weight of the long season - a season that began with personal challenges for Washington himself.
Ever the survivor, Washington joins an elite group. He and the late Johnny Oates are now the only two managers ever to take the Rangers to baseball's postseason.
"Y'all find that I have trouble really showing how excited I am," Washington said. "But I'm excited."
In the clubhouse before the game, the mood was relaxed and confident. It was as if the Rangers' 10-3 victory Friday night had finally quelled the tensions of the road trip slump.
"Most of the guys here are first-time guys and have never been through anything like this," outfielder David Murphy said. "It's time to finish it out and move on to the next step."
About four hours later, Cliff Pennington's fly ball settled into left fielder Nelson Cruz's glove for the final out, and the party began.
In the cramped quarters that pass for the visitors' clubhouse at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, the Rangers shook champagne bottles that read, "Do Not Shake," and with one notable exception, drenched each other from their new "AL West champs" caps to their toes.
Missing from the champagne party was Josh Hamilton, who chose a more sobering path to celebrate the occasion.
The Rangers respected that. But in mid-celebration, pitcher Darren Oliver had an idea.
"Let's all go get water bottles and get Josh," he said.
"The biggest thing," Hamilton said, "is that it's been 11 years since we've been in the playoffs. I'm excited for the fans. I'm excited for each other.
"It's a proud day in Texas."
In anticipation of the title-clinching win, Washington's old friends in the Oakland clubhouse had presented him with a congratulatory gift - a vat-sized bottle of Hennessy cognac.
"I don't usually drink," Washington said. "But if we do something today, I guess I'll have a little bit."
Eleven years since the franchise's last trip to the playoffs, it was time for the Rangers to finally party again.
The magic number is zero. It's time to turn the page.
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