ARLINGTON, Texas — First-year manager Jeff Banister stood in a corner of the Rangers clubhouse watching players celebrate, with champagne spraying all over.
A year after their 95 losses were the most in the American League, two months after they were still eight games out of first place and three days after ensuring themselves a postseason spot, the Rangers clinched the AL West title with a 9-2 victory over the Angels on the last day of the regular season.
"Incredible moment, emotional, one I'll never forget," Banister said. "They never quit."
Cole Hamels pitched a three-hitter, his first complete game since Texas acquired the ace left-hander from Philadelphia at the end of July, and team leader Adrian Beltre hit a go-ahead homer in the win, which eliminated Los Angeles from playoff contention.
Moments after the final out, an AL West championship banner was hanging beyond centerfield at the ballpark. A championship flag was hoisted on one of the six poles atop the massive video board in rightfield.
"This means a lot. I have never been on a team with as much heart," said shortstop Elvis Andrus, the Rangers' most-tenured position player and a member of their only World Series teams in 2010 and 2011. "This means a lot more than what we did a few years ago because of who these guys are. They have so much passion and energy. It has been a crazy year."
Texas, which lost ace Yu Darvish to Tommy John surgery before the season even started, plays its first AL Division Series game since 2011 on Thursday at Toronto.
The Rangers scored six in the seventh Sunday, including an infield RBI single by Beltre and a two-run double from Andrus.
"This game has a cruel sense of humor," Banister said. "From what happened yesterday, we got punched in the mouth. When that happens, you find out what you are made of, and you saw that in everything they did today."
The Angels needed to win their finale and have Houston lose in Arizona to force a tiebreaker game for the AL's second wild card.
"It's obviously disappointing," star centerfielder and MVP candidate Mike Trout said. "Can't say I'm happy. I'm obviously not happy, but proud I am about this group."