Rangers wrap up first playoff berth since 2016, help eliminate Mariners with 6-1 victory
SEATTLE (AP) — Bruce Bochy had a bottle of bubbly in his hand as he watched the celebration of a turnaround that very few expected in his first season in charge in Texas.
“This is what I came back for and there's nothing like it,” Bochy said. “It's been some kind of ride so far and we've got a lot of work to do but to be in this moment right now these are memories you never forget and for these guys I couldn't be happier.”
The Rangers are back in the postseason for the first time since 2016, beating the Seattle Mariners 6-1 on Saturday to clinch a playoff spot in the American League.
Texas (90-71) can claim the AL West title and the No. 2 seed in the AL playoffs with a win over the Mariners in the regular-season finale or a loss by Houston (89-72) at Arizona on Sunday.
After a traditional clinching celebration in the middle of the clubhouse, the Rangers crowded into a dining room to watch the final outs of Houston's 1-0 win over the Diamondbacks. That win pushed the division race to the final day and muted a little of the party.
But just a little.
“To come from where we did last year to make the playoffs is extremely exciting. That’s why we’re celebrating tonight,” Texas shortstop Corey Seager said.
The win by the Astros also eliminated the Mariners from the postseason race, falling short a year after ending a 21-year playoff drought.
It led to some frustration in Seattle's clubhouse, especially after the Mariners made minimal moves at the trade deadline while other contenders, including Texas, were far more aggressive.
“We got to commit to winning,” Seattle catcher Cal Raleigh said. “We have to commit to going and getting those players you see other teams going out, going for, getting big-time pitchers, getting big-time hitters and we have to do that to keep up.”
The Rangers grabbed control by putting together a four-run third inning against Luis Castillo, highlighted by two-out hits from Nathaniel Lowe, Jonah Heim and Leody Tavares that all plated runs. Heim hit a two-run single with an 0-2 count after fouling off three straight pitches, and Tavares’ broken-bat RBI single made it 4-0.
That was all Andrew Heaney and three relievers needed in shutting down the Mariners. Heaney learned late Friday night he would get the call after Jon Gray went on the 15-day injured list with a forearm strain.
It was his first start since Sept. 4 and he worked into the fifth inning before turning it over to the Texas bullpen.
“I was hoping it would be me. They put a lot of faith in me. I really appreciate that,” Heaney said. “It’s been a Jekyll and Hyde (season). I’ve had some really great ones, some really bad ones. For them to put the faith in me that’s amazing.”
It’s the ninth postseason appearance for the Rangers, but after reaching the playoffs five times between 2010-16, it’s been a rough stretch for Texas.
The turnaround with Bochy as manager was dramatic. Texas reached 90 wins for the ninth time in franchise history, and the Rangers already have made a 22-game improvement over last season when they finished with 68 wins.
The Rangers were on the verge of clinching a playoff spot on Thursday night, only to see Seattle rally with two runs in the ninth inning for a 3-2 victory. They were shut out 8-0 on Friday.
But Texas made Castillo work from the outset, eliminating any momentum that might have carried over from the prior two nights.
Bochy is the 12th manager to take three different teams to the postseason after previously going to the playoffs with San Francisco and San Diego.
“We're still trying to win this division. But to get there you work too hard from spring training to pass this up. You got to enjoy it. You got to celebrate,” Bochy said.
Castillo (14-9) was pulled after 2 2/3 innings, the shortest start in his 1½ seasons with the Mariners and tied for the second-shortest start of his career. The right-hander had pitched at least five innings in his previous 32 starts this season but nibbled too much on the edges and found himself in trouble.
Castillo needed 86 pitches to record eight outs. He went to 3-2 counts to seven of the 18 batters he faced and his five walks were one off his season high.
In his final two starts of the regular season, Castillo allowed nine earned runs in 8 2/3 innings.
“It wasn't vintage Luis Castillo today,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “He was just off a little bit today and they took advantage of it.”
Seattle also had some trouble at the plate.
The Mariners loaded the bases in the fifth on singles by Ty France, Sam Haggerty and J.P. Crawford. Heaney was lifted and Josh Sborz (6-7) got Texas out of the jam by retiring Julio Rodríguez and Eugenio Suárez.
Rodríguez was hitless in four at-bats and is 1 for 21 on Seattle's final homestand.
Suárez hit his 22nd homer in the eighth inning for Seattle's only run.
Along with competing for the division title, Seager will be trying to win the AL batting crown on the final day. Seager leads Tampa Bay's Yandy Díaz .3298 to .3295 going into the last game. It's been a major rebound for Seager after hitting .245 a year ago in his first season with Texas.
Texas brought up veteran right-hander Matt Bush from Triple-A Round Rock for additional depth in the bullpen. Jake Latz was optioned to Round Rock and Alex Speas was designated for assignment.
Rangers: Texas has not announced a starter for Sunday’s finale.
Mariners: George Kirby (12-10, 3.46 ERA) will start the regular-season finale looking to match his performance from his outing earlier this week against Houston, when he threw six shutout innings.
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