Nathan, Bullpen Send Rangers to Playoff Game with Rays
Rangers ace Yu Darvish was chased in the sixth inning, once against unable to hold a lead in a close game, but the Rangers still had their real ace in the bullpen. Joe Nathan (right in photo) did what he has done for a decade better than anyone else except Mariano Rivera (center in photo) to key the Rangers run into a playoff game. He led a bullpen that threw 3 1/3 shutout innings Sunday to make it seven straight games and Nathan made it seven straight scoreless appearances with only two hits and one walk allowed to send the Rangers into a play-off game with the Rays Monday.
The winner will play at Cleveland in a one-game wild-card game Wednesday after all three teams won Sunday. Nathan finished the season with a 1.39 ERA. Since Nathan became a reliever in 2003, he has had an ERA of below 3.00 and at least 37 saves in every season except for when he was out with an injury (2010) and recovering from that injury (2011). In most of those seasons, including this year, his ERA was under 2.00.
Rangers fans assumed they need to win to survive when the Rays scored six runs in the first inning of their game against the Blue Jays, who had beaten the Rays Saturday to give the Rangers a chance.
The Rangers had to win after the Rays survived for a 7-6 win earlier in the day, and they finally broke the game open with four last runs to win 6-2. The Indians had won earlier in the day, so they will host the winner in the wild-card game.
While they would have preferred to save Darvish for the playoff game if they had not had to win to get in, they can use the whole bullpen Monday. Neal Cotts did give up a hit in relief of Darvish, but retired the next batter to lower his ERA to 1.13 and improve to 8-3 on the season.
Tanner Scheppers recorded his 27th Hold and lowered his ERA to 1.90 with a scoreless eighth before Nathan came in to finish off the disappointing Angels. The three relievers have combined to allow fewer than one run a game despite pitching in a hitters' park.
Geovany Soto, who was likely starting just to catch Darvish, made a winner of Cotts with a double in the bottom of the sixth, and then added a late home run to help the Rangers to their seventh straight win.
The Indians will host the AL wild-card game one day after the NL wild-card game is played two hours away in Pittsburgh.