The Texas Rangers' Magic Number: ZERO!!!

Usually by the time we start feeling fall, your Texas Rangers have long since raised the white flag. But I'll be damned, tonight in Arlington they're going to raise a championship banner.

Cue Prince, it is indeed time to party like it's 1999.

When Nelson Cruz nabbed a lazy fly ball to shallow left field Saturday afternoon, the Rangers proclaimed themselves "winners" for only the fourth time in 39 seasons of baseball. With a monumental 4-3 victory over the A's, the Rangers won the American League West and got us jazzed for a rarity in these parts: October baseball.

As a life-long Rangers' fan who attended the first game at Arlington Stadium back in 1972 (I was sitting in left-center field when Frank Howard's inaugural homer christened the seats), it's surreal to watch Texas celebrate anything more than individual achievement. No-hitters. MVPs. Home Run Derbys. Plenty of those through the years.

But a dramatic, climactic, hop-happy celebration on someone else's field? It's time.

Actually, it was way overdue.

Since '99 the Rangers have sucked. They've changed philosophical directions more than your kid's Etch-O-Sketch. From '00-'07 they managed to produce eight consecutive seasons finishing third or worse in a four-team division. Last decade they had eight losing seasons in 10 years.

It was abysmal. It was embarrassing. It ... is over.

This year the Rangers survived their manager's cocaine admission, ugly bankruptcy proceedings climaxed by an ownership tug-of-war, a guy falling from the stands, a pitcher almost killed by a line drive and the usual ebbs and flows of a 162-game season. Truth be told, the Rangers took control of the division on June 8 in the midst of an 11-game winning streak and were never threatened.

Fittingly in this weird, wonderful year, it was a slumping hitter who got the clinching knock and a pitcher who in spring wanted to be a starter who nailed down the final out as a reliever. Despite Jorge Cantu setting a Rangers' record for most RBI-less at-bats to start a career in Texas (84) and despite having hot lefties David Murphy and Chris Davis available on the bench, gut-led manager Ron Washington stuck with Cantu in Saturday's eighth inning and he responded with a homer to left-center. Neftali Feliz then pitched the ninth for his rookie record 38th save.

They'll be plenty of time to dissect the Rangers' playoff chances and lament their 0-12 road record against possible foes Minnesota, Tampa Bay and New York. But today let's do the Claw, the Antlers and irrationally frolic in a champagne-soaked celebration of joy and gratitude.

I'm most happy for veteran Michael Young. You?

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