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LAA@TEX: Darvish strikes out seven over 6 2/3 innings

The Orioles and Rangers had their sights set on division titles. Now they'll settle for one shot at survival.

Baltimore couldn't catch the Yankees in the American League East, and in the most stunning reversal of fortune of the late regular season, the Rangers were swept in Oakland and lost the AL West in Game No. 162 on Wednesday.

Now they're the Wild Cards, and neither club has much time to regroup.

The historic, inaugural AL play-in Wild Card game is slated for Friday at 8:37 p.m. ET in Arlington, and the winner will advance to play the Yankees in the AL Division Series. The loser will spend the winter pondering what could have been.

"We have to shake it off," Rangers outfielder David Murphy said of his team's plodding finish to the regular season. "It's not going to be an easy one to shake off, but we don't have the luxury of hanging our heads and feeling sorry for ourselves. We put ourselves in this position."

While both teams are proud of their achievement as postseason contenders, a five-game series provides much more margin for error. Now, in a one-game-take-all situation, everything has to go right.

The Rangers will be counting on their prized rookie Japanese import, Yu Darvish, to give them a good start, and the 26-year-old has obliged in recent days, pitching his best ball down the stretch.

Darvish went 5-1 with a 2.35 ERA in his final eight starts to cement his season record at 16-9. He pitched to a 3.90 ERA in 29 starts overall and struck out 221 batters in 191 1/3 innings. Opposing batters hit .220 off him, good for third in the league.

"I feel extremely good about it," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "I like the way he's gone out and competed. The way he's competed from the beginning of the year until now. ... He's our big-game pitcher."

Meanwhile, as of a few hours after their season-ending defeat in Tampa Bay, the Orioles hadn't picked their Friday starter, although the two likely candidates for the assignment are left-hander Joe Saunders and righty Steve Johnson.

Johnson, who's 4-0 with a 2.11 ERA in 12 games (four starts), has been suffering from a sore left knee but looked good in a Wednesday bullpen session. He would be a taste of the unknown, given that he has not faced Texas.

Saunders has plenty of experience against Texas, but not much of it was particularly memorable. The southpaw has a career 6.48 ERA in 11 starts against the Rangers and a 9.38 ERA in six games at the Ballpark in Arlington.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter didn't seem terribly concerned either way, admitting that the patchwork nature of the Orioles' staff during the 2012 season has helped define who they are as a club.

"If you look at what's been going on all year, it's been the sum of the pitching staff between [Triple-A] Norfolk and Baltimore," Showalter said.

"We think our No. 1 starter is the guy that's pitching that night."

Orioles: Showalter facing his old team
Arlington is a familiar place for Showalter, who helmed the Rangers in his third Major League managerial go-around from 2003-2006. Four years later after becoming a staple in the broadcasting booth, Showalter landed the job with the Orioles, and now he's here, overseeing the franchise's first playoff berth in 15 years and having a great time doing it.

"I've allowed myself [to have fun]," Showalter said. "This is a great group to be around. They don't let anybody take them too seriously, trust me. I feel real good that they feel real comfortable making sure all of us don't take each other too seriously. Everybody around here is open game [for jokes], and that's the way it should be."

• The Orioles have had 19 different players record a pitching win in 2012, one shy of last year's club record. The 2001 team is the only other Orioles team with as many as 19 different players picking up wins. In the AL this year, only Boston had 20 players record a win, while Minnesota, Oakland and Toronto also had 19. San Diego led the Majors with 22.

• Catcher Matt Wieters finished the regular season with a career-high 23 home runs. His 43 home runs over the last two seasons are tied with Atlanta's Brian McCann for the most in the Majors by a catcher. Wieters had a career-high 83 RBIs this year (two as the DH) and his 147 RBIs as a catcher over the last two years are the most in the AL and second in the Majors to Miguel Montero's 172.

Rangers: Beltre set for 3B return
Adrian Beltre is known for arguing with his skipper when his name isn't in the lineup, so he was penciled in at designated hitter for Wednesday's game in Oakland because of a strained left shoulder. It was the third straight game in which he had started at DH, but expect that to end in Friday's Wild Card play-in.

Beltre, who went 3-for-4 in Wednesday's loss, is a Gold Glove third baseman, and Washington said he expects him to be back at the hot corner against the Orioles and throughout the playoffs if the Rangers advance.

"I just wanted to give him another day and make sure he is fine," Washington said Tuesday. "He took ground balls the other day and looked good. I just wanted to give him another day."

• The Rangers have lost three straight games, five of six, seven of nine and nine of the last 13 games, the longer span beginning Sept. 21. The team has won consecutive games once in this span (Sept. 23-24).

• Leave it to Josh Hamilton to put a bright spin on things. After losing Wednesday's game in part because of his costly error in dropping a Yoenis Cespedes pop fly, Hamilton said maybe getting knocked into the Wild Card game could be a good thing for the Rangers.

"The last two years we won the division and came up short," Hamilton said. "Maybe this time we'll come in like the Cardinals last year [as the Wild Card] and get it done."

Worth noting
• The Orioles went 2-5 against Texas this year and were outscored, 56-24, in those games. Baltimore lost two of three against the Rangers in Arlington this year.

• Darvish did not face the Orioles this year. He went 4-2 against the rest of the American League East.

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