(Sports Network) - The Texas Rangers had to win seven straight games just to keep their playoff hopes alive. However, they will need to win another game at home on Monday if they intend on reaching the postseason for a fourth straight year.
For the fourth time in the last seven years the regular season will be extended by one game, as the Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays play a one-game tiebreaker to decide the final American League wild card spot.
"Tampa Bay is coming into town, now we have to keep our game elevated and do what we have been doing. We don't change anything," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Just continue to play Texas Rangers baseball and hope to sustain it for a long time to come."
The winner of Monday's contest at Rangers Ballpark will face Cleveland on Wednesday.
Texas, which will be hosting the contest based on its 4-3 mark versus the Rays during the season, comes into this contest, having won 10 of its last 13, including a 7-0 homestand to close the slate.
It's quite a contrast from last year when the Rangers lost six of their final eight regular season games to blow their chance at winning an American League West title.
The poor finish carried into the postseason, as the Rangers lost the wild card game at home to Baltimore.
History seemed to be repeating itself this year, as Washington's club lost 13 of 17 and cost themselves a shot at a division title and seemingly a postseason spot. It all turned around, though, when the Rangers returned home, as they swept a three-game set from the woeful Houston Astros before forcing the tiebreaker with four straight wins over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
"We never thought back to last year," Texas closer Joe Nathan said. "That's what you guys are for, to bring up old stuff. The history for us is exactly that: It's history. This is a new team in here, a lot of new faces, so last year never came across anybody's mind."
The Rangers could get a boost in their lineup on Monday, as the team has activated outfielder Nelson Cruz, who is done serving his 50-game suspension for his involvement the now-defunct Biogenesis clinic.
"It feels special to be back," said Cruz. "It shows they believe in me. I have been working every day to make sure I am ready. I want to play. I want to be a part of this team and help them win championships."
Texas will also have its hottest pitcher on the hill in left-hander Martin Perez, who is 7-2 with a 3.26 ERA over his last 10 starts. Overall, he was 10-5 with a 3.55 ERA.
"I feel good. He's one of the reasons why we are getting this opportunity, and it's his turn," Washington said. "He's well rested. We have plenty of guys to back him up. If it gets out of control, we can stop it quickly. We have a lot of confidence in him."
This will be Perez's first-ever start versus the Rays. Should he stumble, Washington has stated that righties Alexi Ogando and Matt Garza will be available out of the bullpen.
Tampa closed the season just as strong as Texas, but nearly cost itself a shot at the postseason when it lost the first two of its three-game set with the Toronto Blue Jays over the weekend.
The Rays salvaged the series, and their season, with a victory on Sunday to win for the eighth time in 10 tries and force the tiebreaker.
"We're not in the playoffs yet, but we've gotten to this point," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Let's just let the air out and go play."
While the Rangers will be throwing a 22-year-old rookie on Monday, the Rays will hand the ball to the American League's reigning Cy Young Award winner in David Price.
Price, though, has been inconsistent this season, posting a 9-8 mark to go along with a 3.39 ERA. However, he has pitched to a 2.73 ERA over his last four starts.
"This is hands down my biggest game of this year," Price said. "It's night and day bigger than Opening Day. It's big. This is the moment that I want to be in. I want to be able to relish this moment and just go out there and have fun."
Texas has traditionally given the left-hander problems, as Price is just 1-4 with a 5.98 ERA in eight starts versus the Rangers. It's been even worse in Arlington, where has totaled a 10.26 ERA in four starts.
This is the first one-game tiebreaker since 2009 when Minnesota beat Detroit to decide the AL Central.