The crisis is over. The Texas Rangers appeared ready to surrender the American League West lead to the surging Seattle Mariners a few days ago, but they pulled out of a terrifying tailspin just in time.
The Rangers won for the third time in four games yesterday, defeating the Oakland Athletics, 7-3, to extend their lead over the Mariners and move another day closer to the first division championship in franchise history.
Maybe one day doesn't seem like much, but the Rangers have only four games remaining on their regular-season schedule, and a three-game lead. They are off today before opening a four-game series against the last-place California Angels at the Ballpark in Arlington.
"We're in control now," said third baseman Dean Palmer. "I think everyone's relieved to come out of this road trip. Everyone's just looking forward to getting back home and relaxing a bit."
Under the circumstances, manager Johnny Oates has to be happy that his club has fewer games to play than the Mariners, who still have one game remaining with the vengeful Angels, four with Oakland and -- if necessary -- a makeup game with the Cleveland Indians on Monday.
That puts the Mariners in better position to determine their own fate, but they'll have to virtually win all their games to keep pressure on the Rangers, who no longer are feeling the weight of the World Series on their tired shoulders.
"I think the atmosphere is different than when we left Seattle," Oates said. "Now we can go home and get a chance to do what needs to be done at home."
So, it looks like it will be a split decision for the Lone Star State. The Houston Astros, who looked like they would go down to the wire in the NL Central, lost eight straight to drop out of contention.
The struggling A's and Angels looked hapless enough, but they have teamed up with the law of averages to slow -- and maybe even stop -- the advance of the Mariners.
"We're not going to make the playoffs," said Oakland outfielder Ernie Young, "but Art [manager Art Howe] is looking at our heart and soul. We can be spoilers for sure. We can make a difference and the experience will be great for us next year."
The Angels' motivation is far more visceral, and far more focused. They took a lot of pleasure in beating the Mariners on Monday night and last night, and why not?
"After last year, I think it's a natural thing to have some resentment of them," outfielder Tim Salmon said. "That's the team that took it from us, so that changes the tone a little bit."
Still a genius
He probably doesn't care whether the Cardinals play the Padres or the Dodgers in the divisional series, but it might be nice to take another swing at Los Angeles. It was the Dodgers who dispatched his Oakland A's club in the 1988 World Se- ries.
No big advantage
No doubt, the Orioles were happy to hear that they will get to play host in a one-game playoff if they tie with the Rangers for the wild-card berth, but it's debatable how much good the home-field advantage will do them. The Rangers were 5-2 at Camden Yards this year and 16-9 since the new park opened.
Wild card not Expo-sed
The schedule has turned on the Montreal Expos at a pivotal moment. They were in position to take advantage of the head-to-head competition between San Diego and Los Angeles (one of which will win the wild-card berth if the Expos don't) but drew the first-place Atlanta Braves for a rare five-game series and lost four times.
If they can get well against the Phillies, they again would be in a position to exploit a showdown between the Padres and Dodgers. Their opponent: the Braves.
Pub Date: 9/25/96