With champagne being sprayed around and on him, Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington savored the moment and remembered a much different scene in the same clubhouse at the end of last year's World Series.
"After the Giants beat us, we stood in this room and we committed ourselves to get back here and get another opportunity," Washington said. "What we did, we gave ourselves another opportunity."
The Rangers, who had to wait more than a decade between playoff appearances before last year, now have won the AL West two seasons in a row. Texas and NL East champion Philadelphia are the only division winners from last season to repeat.
Even though Cliff Lee opted to return to Philadelphia instead of staying with the Rangers after helping them get to their first World Series, Texas still has much of the core from last year. Many of the same players, and the same winning attitude.
"We're actually the same in a lot of ways," Michael Young said. "We're really resilient, we play hard, and we expect to win."
Young, the team's longest-tenured player in his 11th season, was one of the few regulars in the lineup for Saturday afternoon's game against Seattle.
The Rangers clinched their fifth AL West title Friday night with a 5-3 victory over the Mariners combined with the Los Angeles Angels' 3-1 loss to Oakland about two hours later that set off a celebration in Arlington.
When the playoffs begin Friday, C.J. Wilson (16-7) will start the opener for the Rangers.
Texas and Detroit went into Saturday tied for the second-best record in the AL, both trying for homefield advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Rangers would have to finish a game ahead of the Tigers, who won the season series between the two teams. If not, Texas, faces the likelihood of opening the division series at the New York Yankees in a rematch of last year's AL championship series.
"I want to win as many games as I can. But I'm not going to do it at the expense of getting into the playoffs fatigued," Washington said when asked about trying to overcome the Tigers. "We won a division and it wasn't easy. It was a grind. And the guys I depended every day were out there every day. For us to go further, they have to be mentally ready.
Washington will go with a four-man starting rotation during the playoffs, but didn't say Saturday which of the starters would become part of an eight-man bullpens.
"I'm not ready to expose it yet," Washington said.
With Lewis, Derek Holland (15-5) and Matt Harrison (14-9), who pitched six innings to win Friday night, the Rangers have gotten a club-record 45 victories from left-handed starters. That is the most in the majors since the 1997 Mariners got 52 wins from lefty starters.
Right-hander Colby Lewis (13-10) was 3-0 with a 1.71 ERA in his four postseason starts last fall, throwing five scoreless innings in his no-decision and winning the AL pennant-clinching game. The other starter is converted reliever Alexi Ogando, the right-hander given extra rest in September because of his workload.
"We've been trying to establish something with pitching for the past three years and I think this year our young kids stepped up. Our two veterans (Wilson and Lewis) stepped up and our bullpen stepped up," Washington said. "To survive, you've got to pitch and you've got to catch the ball. We know what type of offense we have, but on any given night, pitching can stop that. Consistently you've got to bring the defense and you've got to bring the defense, and that's what we've done."
These Rangers can still hit, and primary additions Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli only added to that.
Napoli (.320, 26 homers) was acquired in a trade last offseason, but Beltre chose the Rangers over the Angels when he was a free agent after an All-Star season in Boston.
Despite missing 37 games with a left hamstring strain, Beltre has 29 home runs and his third career 100-RBI season. His homer Friday night was his ninth in 12 games.
"It's been a blast. One of the main reasons I came here is because I knew we'd have a good enough team to win all the way. But it's not over. This is the first step and hopefully we can do our job and bring the World Series to North Texas," Beltre said. "It's the same team from year ago that went to the World Series beside Cliff Lee. ... I knew we had good enough pitching, good offense and a good defense. My opinion, it was my best chance to get a ring."