ARLINGTON -- This was an extraordinary day, and it ended with Mike Napoli having another spectacular game against his former team, Joe Nathan displaying his fortitude and the Rangers drinking a small toast for clinching a third straight trip to the playoffs.The Rangers still won't have the big celebration until they clinch the American League West title, but they are one victory away from that after holding on for an 8-7 victory over the Angels in Game 2 of a day-night doubleheader at the Ballpark in Arlington on Sunday. The Rangers can wrap up the division by winning just one of three games against the Athletics in their season-ending series that begins on Monday in Oakland. But they have assured themselves of at least a Wild Card spot, even if they were to get swept by the Athletics. "We've got the opportunity to play in the postseason again, but our goals are not over with yet," manager Ron Washington said. "We had a toast, but all it was, was congratulating them on getting to the postseason. But what we're after, we haven't got there yet. So enjoy it and go to Oakland and keep going." The Rangers have a two-game division lead going to Oakland. They also have a one-game lead over the Yankees and the Orioles for the best record in the American League, which would give them home-field advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs. But the division is the immediate goal. "It would have been better if we had clinched [a playoff spot after the first game] today," third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "But we didn't play well enough to do that. At least we won the last game tonight, and now going to Oakland and trying to win one game out of three. It's a lot easier than two out of three." The Rangers' situation seemed to be turning bleak after a 5-4 loss in Game 1 and a bad start to Game 2. Nathan blew a 4-3 lead by allowing a two-run double to Torii Hunter in the ninth and then the Rangers started Game 2 by falling behind 4-0 in the first inning. But Napoli drove in six runs with two home runs and a double as the Rangers rallied to take an 8-4 lead. Howard Kendrick's three-run home run in the seventh off Derek Holland made it a one-run game, but Koji Uehara struck out the side in the eighth and Nathan shut down the Angels in the ninth for the save. "We went from one extreme to the other today," outfielder David Murphy said. "You could say the first game was the ultimate heartbreak and the second game was the ultimate gratification. But the best part of the day was Joe Nathan getting a second chance and coming through with it." Nathan said this is the first time in his career that he has pitched in both ends of a doubleheader. But Washington said there was no doubt that Nathan would be used in any save situation.
"I'm OK," Nathan said. "I feel OK. I definitely wanted to get back on the horse, especially with the quick turnaround. Any reliever will tell you he wants to get right back out there and put this afternoon behind him. It's nice to get a win. That team over there pushed us to the limit."Nathan blew a save in Game 1 because he could not retire the bottom of the Angels lineup in order. In Game 2, he had to go against the middle of the Angels order and hitters who could tie the game or win it with one swing of the bat. Albert Pujols led off and Nathan got him to pop out. Hunter drew a walk, but Mark Trumbo flied out to right and Kendry Morales fouled out to Napoli to end the game. "All you can do is trust your stuff," Nathan said. "You don't re-invent the wheel, you just try to make better pitches. Fortunately tonight was better than today." Nathan saved it for Holland, who gave up four runs in the top of the first. He recovered from that by holding the Angels scoreless for five innings while Napoli led the charge of the Rangers offense. "They got me, but I told myself I can't quit," Holland said. "Those guys are grinding it out for you, now you've got to grind it out for them. They got the best of me, but I continued to fight." The Rangers' comeback started when Elvis Andrus drew a one-out walk in the first off of Angels starter Ervin Santana and scored on a double by Josh Hamilton. The Rangers then cut it to 4-3 in the second on back-to-back home runs by Murphy and Napoli. "It definitely wasn't a good feeling falling behind like that, but we just kept fighting," Napoli said. "Holland did a good job battling." Napoli added a three-run home run in third and a two-run double in the fifth that gave the Rangers an 8-4 lead. It was the 10th time he has hit multiple home runs in a game and four have come against the Angels. Napoli played for the Angels from 2006-10. "Today was The Mike Napoli Show," Hunter said. "Mike knows this organization, he knows the styles, and I wonder if that has something to do with it the last two years. He's playing with a vengeance. He was my teammate, so, I hate he's doing it to us. But that's how you really make a statement." Nathan also had a starring role in this one and now there is one act left in this season-ending drama.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.