Baseball

Rangers end 11-year drought

OAKLAND, Calif. —Rangers manager Ron Washington stood in a corner of the crowded clubhouse wearing a champagne-soaked AL West division championship T-shirt.

Across the room, Bengie Molina and Vladimir Guerrero danced to Latin music blaring from nearby stereo speakers. Cigars were lit, and the sweet smell of celebration wafted through the air.

Texas is back in the playoffs after an 11-year drought.

Michael Young and the Rangers became the second team to clinch a spot in the postseason with a 4-3 win over the Oakland Athletics on Saturday, setting off a nearly hour-long party that began on the field shortly after rookie closer Neftali Feliz retired Cliff Pennington for the final out.

"It's a proud day in Texas," said slugger Josh Hamilton, sidelined for the past three weeks with broken ribs. "It's been a long time."

Jorge Cantu hit a tiebreaking homer in the eighth inning, his first for the Rangers, and Texas ended the Los Angeles Angels' three-year run as AL West champs despite a rocky season that began with Washington's admission that he used cocaine. The team also underwent an ownership change in August when an 18-member investment group led by former Rangers star and current team president Nolan Ryan purchased the club from Tom Hicks.

On the field, things haven't been much easier.

Opening-day pitcher Scott Feldman, who led the Rangers with 17 wins in 2009, struggled early and was moved to the bullpen in late July. So was right-hander Rich Harden, who began the year as the team's No. 2 starter.

Texas has struggled at times without Hamilton, an MVP contender who is hitting .361 with 31 homers and 97 RBIs. He broke two ribs when he smacked into the outfield wall in Minnesota on Sept. 4 and is scheduled to be re-evaluated in the next few days.

Despite all that, the Rangers did what they had to in their final series against their closest rivals in the division.

"There's no better feeling I've had playing baseball," second baseman Ian Kinsler said as a mixture of beer and champagne flowed down his cheeks. "We just got Cantu a couple months ago and he came up with a humongous hit for us. It was a great team effort today and it's the way we've been playing baseball all year. We just seem to pick each other up constantly."

Notes: Young homered leading off the third, his 21st of the season. ... A's starter Gio Gonzalez fell short in his third attempt to earn his 15th win of the season. Gonzalez scattered seven hits over six innings with two strikeouts and three walks.

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