One Boston victory or one more Texas loss will arrange a third straight Red Sox-Angels AL Division Series showdown and fourth in six years. Boston swept the Angels in 2004 and '07 and eliminated them in four games last October.
"They're all special," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Somehow there's this feeling out there that this is easy to do. We obviously have bigger fish to fry and we want to be in that position. We're going to go after it.
"Right now, there's a release here, because the guys have been playing hard for a long time. We'll spend this week getting ready for the playoffs. There were some challenges this year, to say the least."
The biggest challenge was emotional recovery with the death of Nick Adenhart, the team's brilliant 22-year-old pitcher, in a car crash with companions Courtney Stewart and Henry Pearson on April 9.
There were a variety of injuries to overcome, notably taking chunks out of the starting rotation, but the loss of Adenhart left an indelible impression on teammates, who loved everything about the young man with the tremendous talent and endearing personality.
"The fact he can't be here and enjoy this with us, it's tough, really tough," said Chone Figgins, the Angels' leadoff catalyst and brilliant third baseman who had the honor of handling the final out behind Santana. "Day to day, you never know when it's your time. You have to enjoy each day, each ballgame, no matter how it's going.
"The injuries and stuff, that's not important. Nick passing away makes baseball secondary. No pressure here. Enjoy the game, enjoy your day. Make the best of it."
Figgins and John Lackey are the only active Angels who were part of the 2002 World Series championship team with Scot Shields sidelined for the season with knee surgery.
Asked if this is the best team he has played on, Figgins said, "The best team is '02. It won it all. This team has a chance. Every time you get to the playoffs, you have a chance."
The Angels' 92nd win was among their most impressive. They put it all together in the clincher, leaving little doubt from the outset.
Vladimir Guerrero's RBI double and Kendry Morales' two-run homer, his 33rd, got the Angels rolling against Tommy Hunter (9-5) in the first inning.
Santana, getting a pair of double plays started by Morales at first, evened his record at 8-8 with a dominant effort. He had only one runner in scoring position until the sixth when he struck out David Murphy and Marlon Byrd to leave two men in scoring position.
Abreu and Maicer Izturis each had three hits for the Angels. Guerrero drove in a pair of runs, Abreu scored twice with a triple and double and had an RBI, and Izturis knocked in two runs, scoring twice.
Asked if he was going for the distance in his last at-bat, in search of a cycle, Abreu grinned and said, "Of course." He struck out swinging against Pedro Strop.
Erick Aybar singled, drove in two runs and scored one, and Morales had a run-scoring groundout to go with his two-run blast. Torii Hunter delivered an RBI single and scored.
"I'm mad," Rangers third baseman Michael Young said. "I don't buy moral victories or look at the so-called positives. I'm not going to get caught up in looking at the future or anything like that.
"I play to win right now. The Angels had a great year, they overcame a lot of adversity and did a great job. From our end, it's not a good feeling."
Scioscia lauded the efforts of the Rangers and their manager Ron Washington, and with good reason. Texas has taken 10 of 16 from the Angels this season.
"They had an incredible season," Scioscia said. "You could see it brewing. They play the game the right way and are going to be a force for a long time.
"I can't say enough about what Ron Washington did. He got my vote for [AL] Manager of the Year. They had an incredible year."
Late-season injuries to Young, the heart of the club, and Josh Hamilton put a severe crimp in the Rangers' designs of catching and overtaking the Angels, who seized the division lead on July 11 and never let it go.
Emerging from a recent offensive slump, the Angels have scored 28 runs in their past three games. They are 10 runs away from the club record of 866 runs scored by the 1979 Angels, the franchise's first division winners.
"Hopefully, we're getting some chemistry going," Scioscia said. "Some guys were comfortable in the batter's box. We had good at-bats all night. It's a good time for it."
Scioscia said it would take a few days to iron out the team's rotation for the upcoming ALDS.
"We'll see how guys line up," Scioscia said. "We're very flexible."