Richard Justice

Angels' 5-run rally exemplifies October ball

Angels' 5-run rally exemplifies October ball

The Texas Rangers were on the top step of the dugout. This was going to be their moment. They'd come so far and worked so hard. They'd kept going when virtually no one believed they could make something out of this season.

Only thing is, the Angels have dreams, too. They've also climbed some mountains.

Explaining possible tiebreakers for postseason

Including this one -- an improbable game, a magical game. If the Angels write the kind of ending they hope to write to this season, this will be the one they remember.

With the Rangers on the verge of clinching the American League West on Saturday afternoon, the Angels stunned them by rallying for five runs in the ninth inning to win, 11-10, at Globe Life Park in Arlington.

The Astros trail the AL West-leading Rangers by just one game with one remaining and lead the Angels by one game for the AL's second Wild Card spot. Houston can't clinch a postseason spot until Sunday, but with a 6-2 win over the D-backs on Saturday night, the club clinched no worse than a tie for the final Wild Card spot.

If the Astros and Angels finish tied, they would play a one-game playoff on Monday at Minute Maid Park, based on the Astros winning the season series between the teams (10-9). If the Astros win on Sunday and the Rangers lose, the two clubs would finish tied for the division lead. The Astros and Rangers would then play a one-game tiebreaker on Monday in Arlington to decide the AL West champ based on the Rangers winning the season series between the clubs (13-6). The loser would get the second AL Wild Card spot.

If the Astros win the second Wild Card spot and finish tied with the Yankees, the game would be at Minute Maid Park as the Astros won the season series, 4-3.

Saturday's Angels win was one of those games that players on both teams might remember for the rest of their lives. At some point, it was as much a test of wills as it was a baseball game. One team punched, the other punched back.

This was classic theater, great baseball, spectacularly entertaining. The game of the year. As the top of the ninth inning unfolded, and as the Angels kept fighting, and as they saw they had a chance, their dugout was alive with emotion and expectation.

Albert Pujols looked like he was 22 again, encouraging, yelling. At the end, they poured onto the field, all of them, Mike Scioscia and Mike Trout and the others.

To understand what this playoff push means to these players, take a look at both these dugouts, at the emotion and the elation and disappointment. The Rangers used 22 players, the Angels 21. Both teams used eight relievers. Both teams went places they never expected to go.

Angels left-hander Jo-Jo Reyes made his first big league appearance in four years and was credited with his 13th career victory after getting one out in the eighth inning. Scioscia also used newly signed Mat Latos, recently released by the Dodgers, for 2 1/3 innings.

Yes, both teams were piecing things together on the fly.

The Rangers eventually would ask veteran Ross Ohlendorf to get his second career save. He has been released twice this season and was not supposed to be in this situation.

Maybe that was the backstory to this whole thing. The Rangers are gasping for air at the finish line. Banister has pushed his bullpen hard, and the fatigue is showing.

Closer Shawn Tolleson got the ball for a fifth consecutive day. Until this week, he'd pitched longer than three consecutive days only once this season. When he entered in the top of the ninth with the Rangers leading 10-6, Erick Aybar and Kole Calhoun promptly greeted him with home runs.

Banister had seen enough, but he'd already used his three primary setup men -- Jake Diekman, Sam Dyson and Keone Kela

Ohlendorf almost got it done. He got Trout on an infielder grounder, and after Pujols doubled, he struck out David Murphy. And then…

C.J. Cron singled. David Freese singled. Ohlendorf worked Carlos Perez to a 2-2 count. Having watched Perez foul off a slider, Ohlendorf threw a 96-mph fastball. Perez dumped it into center field to score a run.

He didn't blister the ball. He simply fought for his life. In that way, he spoke volumes about this entire baseball team.

That's when Ohlendorf and Johnny Giavotella fought one another for seven pitches. When Ohlendorf got ahead 1-2, Giavotella fouled off three straight pitches. Ohlendorf threw quality stuff, but Giavotella fought him. He fouled off a fastball, then a slider, then another fastball. The seventh pitch was a fastball, and Giovatella didn't miss this one. His single scored the 10th and 11th runs.

When Joe Smith got the final three outs in the bottom of the ninth, the Rangers filed out of their dugout as the Angels celebrated wildly. Baseball did itself proud by delivering a game like this on the next-to-last day of the regular season.

Banister reminded reporters that the Rangers are still in a good place, and that he still believes. Their bullpen is exhausted, their emotions drained.

But they've already clinched a postseason berth, and their magic number for winning the AL West is down to one.

The Angels need help. They cannot win the AL West, and they are a game behind the Astros in the race for the second Wild Card berth. Even if they beat the Rangers again tomorrow, their season is done unless the D-backs beat the Astros on Sunday.

They've had a remarkable journey back into contention. Their manager, who has been around the block a time or two, isn't the easiest guy to impress. When Scioscia talks about this team, he's effusive in his praise.

"Never been prouder of a group," he said. He lets those words hang in there.

"There were times…"

Injuries and slumps. Losing streaks. Assorted distractions. And then, there's a moment like the Angels had on Saturday, when anything seems possible.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.