ARLINGTON -- For a third straight year, Major League Baseball is in for a wild finish on the final day of the regular season, and the Rangers find themselves caught in the middle of the excitement for a second consecutive season.
The Rangers entered Sunday's game tied with the Rays for the second American League Wild Card spot and a game behind the Indians for the top Wild Card seed. It brings up the possibility of a three-way tie for both Wild Card spots.
"I couldn't imagine if the second Wild Card team wasn't introduced last year with the situation that's going on today of a possible three-way tie for one Wild Card," Ian Kinsler said. "I don't know how that all would've shook up, but luckily there's two Wild Cards this year and our opportunities are greater."
The goal was simple for the Rangers entering Sunday's game: win and they'll play another game. Whether that'd be a tiebreaker game or a Wild Card game will be determined by the outcomes of the Indians and Rays, who started their games against the Twins and Blue Jays before Texas.
"It's been amazing," Elvis Andrus said. "That's what the fans want, fighting until the last day. We still won't know what's going on today, and we'll see what happens after today. It means a lot though, the excitement that we as players bring to this sport, and the fans love it."
The Rangers lost to the A's on the final game last season to decide the AL West title and the top Wild Card spot. In 2011, the Rays and Cardinals made the playoffs on the final day and the Braves and Red Sox were eliminated in arguably one of the greatest days in MLB history.
"It's crazy how the last three years in MLB it's pretty much came down to the last day deciding whether it'd be the playoffs period or just home-field advantage," Kinsler said. "There's always something on the line it seems for the last three years. It's been a lot of fun, and I think MLB is taking advantage of it. The league is in a great position right now."
Rangers activate Cruz, batting sixth tonight
ARLINGTON -- Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz has served his 50-game suspension and has been activated for Monday night's tiebreaker game against the Rays at the Ballpark in Arlington. Cruz is in the No. 6 spot in tonight's lineup as the designated hitter.
Cruz accepted a 50-game suspension by Major League Baseball in August for violation of the Basic Agreement and its Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment program.
Cruz is expected to be back in the lineup against left-hander David Price in a game that will decide who advances as the second Wild Card team and plays the Indians in the Wild Card Game on Wednesday in Cleveland. Monday's game will be broadcast on TBS.
The Rangers made the announcement after their 6-2 victory over the Angels on Sunday afternoon.
"It feels special to be back," Cruz said. "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."
Cruz has not played in a regular-season game since Aug. 4. He was hitting .269 with 27 home runs, 76 RBIs and a .511 slugging percentage at the time he was suspended.
He has been working out in instructional league and played in eight games, going 9-for-27 with four doubles, one home run and nine RBIs. Cruz said he has been seeing some hard throwers in Arizona, although not with the same breaking stuff as he sees in the Major Leagues.
The Rangers had been planning to activate Cruz once his suspension was over. But they wanted to wait until the regular season was over before making an official decision.
"If we didn't win this week, it would have been a moot point," general manager Jon Daniels said. "There was no sense talking about it. We wanted to stay in the moment."
Daniels also wanted to make sure no new information came up regarding Cruz's situation and they wanted to make sure he handled himself appropriately during the suspension, especially around the Rangers' young players in instructional league.
"We were satisfied," Daniels said. "He handled it well."
Daniels also wanted to make sure Cruz's teammates would welcome him back, but that was never an issue.
"That's not my decision, but I would love to have him back," third baseman Adrian Beltre said.
"We have been saying all along that we would want him back," outfielder David Murphy said. "He has a track record here and he has been a great teammate. He made a mistake. We didn't agree with what he did, but everybody makes mistakes. We had a meeting and forgave him. In my mind it's easy to welcome him back at the most important time of the year."
The Rangers were 29-21 during Cruz's absence. They hit .267 with a .417 slugging percentage while averaging 4.4 runs per game before the suspension. They hit .266 with a .403 slugging percentage as a team while scoring 5.0 runs per game while Cruz was out.
But the Rangers should be stronger with Cruz and Alex Rios in the same lineup. The Rangers acquired Rios four days after Cruz was suspended and he is hitting .280 with six home runs and 25 RBIs in 46 games with the Rangers.
"It would be great to have that extra bat, a power hitter," shortstop Elvis Andrus said. "Especially with what he has done in postseason ... for sure he is someone we'd love to have back."
Cruz is a career .278 hitter in the postseason, with 14 home runs and 27 RBIs in 34 games. His .683 slugging percentage is fourth all-time for any player with at least 100 at-bats in the postseason.
The tiebreaker game on Monday will be played with expanded September rosters. The Rangers will revert back to a 25-man roster if they advance to the postseason. The Rangers expect Cruz to be on the playoff roster but are not committing to that yet.
"It has been tough," Cruz said. "The guys have done an amazing job. As a player you want to contribute and be there. It was tough not being there and not being in the clubhouse. But now I have a chance to be there and do what I love to do, and that's play baseball. We have been playing really good baseball and I'm excited to be a part of it."
Perez ready to start if needed Monday
ARLINGTON -- Rangers pitcher Martin Perez has been going through his regular routine this week in preparation for a possible start in a tiebreaker game on Monday. Perez last pitched on Wednesday, and it would be his turn to start unless the Rangers bring back Matt Garza on three days' rest.
But the Rangers believe Perez can handle it. He is 10-5 with a 3.55 ERA in 19 starts, and 7-2 with a 3.26 ERA in his last 10 starts.
"It would be a playoff game, so I'm excited, but I don't want to put any pressure on myself or get nervous," Perez said. "I just need to relax and take it as another game."
Perez was used exclusively as a starter this season but was in the bullpen on Sunday afternoon. So was Garza, who has made just three relief appearances as opposed to 191 starts in his big league career. Manager Ron Washington said it's "all hands on deck" for Sunday's game against the Angels.
If the Rays win, the Rangers have to win as well or be eliminated from playoff contention.
Gentry says right ankle OK after being stepped on
ARLINGTON -- Craig Gentry said his right ankle felt fine Sunday, and he was back in left field for the Rangers' regular-season finale against the Angels.
The outfielder had his foot stepped on following a bunt single in the fifth inning on Saturday and remained on the ground after he reached safely. Gentry was attended to by Rangers manager Ron Washington and the medical staff, but he remained in the game. During the next at-bat, Gentry recorded his 22nd stolen base this season even with the tweaked ankle and the wet infield conditions.
"I'm always willing to take the extra base," Gentry said. "In that situation right there, I was trying to get myself in scoring position and get as many runs as possible.
"You put pressure on the other team. If you can put yourself in scoring position and produce opportunities like that, hopefully we can score some more runs."
Gentry entered Sunday's game 7-for-20 on the homestand, with six runs and four stolen bases.
"I'm just trying to do whatever I can, and luckily things have been swinging my way so far.," Gentry said. "Hopefully I can keep it going and keep the confidence up there."
• Geovany Soto was in the lineup on Sunday for the fifth straight game with Yu Darvish on the mound. A.J. Pierzynski was used at designated hitter over Jeff Baker, a right-handed hitter, even though the Angels had left-hander Jason Vargas on the mound. Said Washington, "I wanted A.J.'s bat. I want his threat."
• Adrian Beltre went into Sunday's game leading the AL in hits with three more than Miguel Cabrera and Dustin Pedroia. He is trying to become the third Rangers player to lead the league in hits. Michael Young did so in 2005 (221), and Rafael Palmeiro did in 1990 (191).
• The Rangers went into Sunday having stolen a base in a club record 11 straight games.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. Master Tesfatsion is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.