The Rangers' chances of ending their 10-year postseason drought would be a bit more realistic had they not blown a late five-run lead in their home finale Sunday and lost 7-6 to the Tampa Bay Rays, the defending American League champions just playing out the season.
"I love the fact that we didn't quit, that we kept fighting and eventually won," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's a tough circumstance to play in and I love what we did. Last road game, we'd done nothing good against a team that's trying to get into the playoffs. And we come back to win."
And deal a staggering blow to the Rangers. With seven games left, Texas trails by six in the division and wild-card race. The AL West-leading Angels beat Oakland 7-4 on Sunday, and wild-card leader Boston lost 4-2 at the New York Yankees.
Texas opens a four-game series Monday night in Los Angeles before finishing the regular season with three games in Seattle.
"Most of us got an idea of how perfect you have to be in September," Rangers starter Brandon McCarthy said. "You have to win the games you're supposed to win and come back and win the ones you're not supposed to win."
McCarthy did his part.
The Rangers led 5-0 when the right-hander threw his last pitch with two outs in the eighth, after an error by third baseman Chris Davis extended the inning. Four relievers faltered after that.
"I missed a routine ground ball and that was the game. We had the momentum, two outs, it's a play that's got to be made," Davis said. "My error definitely took the momentum away from us."
Young, the All-Star third baseman who has missed 22 of the last 23 games with a strained left hamstring, said he would be back in the lineup Monday. Davis would then move back to first.
Fernando Perez drove home the go-ahead run with a squeeze bunt in the ninth for Tampa Bay, which scored three times in the eighth and four in its last at-bat to avoid its second sweep in Texas this season. Ben Zobrist had a two-run single in each of the final two innings.
"Fernando's bunt was absolutely perfect, perfectly executed," Maddon said.
Nelson Cruz and Marlon Byrd homered for Texas, which scored 29 runs in the three-game series after totaling 19 in its previous nine-game homestand. That 2-7 stretch pushed the Rangers to their largest playoff deficit all season.
McCarthy gave up two runs, both unearned, and six hits over 7 2/3 innings in his fifth start since spending nearly two months on the disabled list because of a stress fracture in his right shoulder blade.
He quickly got the first two outs in the eighth before the error by Davis and a walk. Darren O'Day and C.J. Wilson both faced two batters and failed to retire any of them, before Francisco came on to strike out pinch-hitter Gregg Zaun.
But Francisco, who had converted 24 of 27 saves, got himself in trouble in the ninth. The right-hander walked two and gave up three hits before hard-throwing rookie Neftali Feliz took over to face Perez.
The Rangers went in front on Cruz's 33rd homer, a two-out shot in the second that snapped a 4-for-30 slump.
Cruz also had a leadoff single and scored in Texas' three-run fifth against rookie left-hander David Price. Ian Kinsler doubled in Cruz before Elvis Andrus' squeeze play turned into an run-scoring bunt single and David Murphy hit a sacrifice fly.
After replacing McCarthy in the eighth, O'Day walked Evan Longoria and gave up a two-run single to Zobrist that made it 5-2. Wilson allowed an RBI single to Willy Aybar and hit B.J. Upton with a pitch before Francisco came in.
A strange ending to the Rangers fifth: Andrus was caught stealing at third for the third out on the same pitch Byrd drew a walk. Byrd, who hadn't even left the batter's box, still had to go to first base to be credited with the walk. ... Upton had gone six games without a strikeout until ending the fourth with his 149th -- and then added No. 150 in the ninth, fifth most in the AL. ... Byrd's homer in the eighth, his third in two games, gave him his first 20-homer season.