ARLINGTON -- Michael Young always imagined that he would wake up one morning and get ready to play a home playoff game.

That morning finally arrived on Saturday.

"I visualized it happening many times," the Rangers' leader said, "and knew that this year we had an opportunity to really make it happen."

Red, white and blue bunting covered the facades of the office buildings located in center field at Rangers Ballpark -- the first time that has ever happened this late in October.

Young and his Rangers teammates usually are scattered around the world by now while four other American League teams competed for World Series glory.

With back-to-back wins against the AL East champion Rays in St. Petersburg, the Rangers reported to work on Saturday needing only one win to advance to the AL Championship Series.

That also would be a first for the organization.

Young, who has been a Rangers regular since 2001 and is the face of the franchise, has seen some talented players come and go. But until this season, the playoffs always were out of their reach.

"To be honest with you," he said, "since I've been here, we've always had a bunch of guys that wanted to win. This year, we had much better players. Better players, better team."

Personnel changes were made along the way, most noticeably the acquisition of left-handed pitcher Cliff Lee, but Young said he sensed in Spring Training that this Rangers team had what it took to win the AL West for the first time since 1999 -- the year before he made his Major League debut.

"Coming into Spring Training, we knew we were ready to roll," he said. "We had a good team last year. We fell short of our goal, but we had a good team, and that carried over into Spring Training.

"We had a good team, and the next thing you know, we have Vladdy [Vladimir Guerrero], Darren Oliver, Colby Lewis and a couple of other big additions. Combine that with the fact we went out and got some big players midseason and we knew we had a chance to do some good things."

With Young providing his veteran leadership, along with a solid .284 batting average, 21 home runs and 91 RBIs in 157 games, the Rangers ran away with the division title.

And Young, who will be 34 years old on Oct. 19, finally made it past the regular-season finale.

He was asked Saturday if any one thing during the past three or four years took the Rangers to the next level.

"It's tough to point at one thing," Young said. "It is more of a gradual thing. I remember in '07, when we traded Tex [Mark Teixeira]. That was tough. I mean, he was a long-time teammate, a great player."

The shock and disappointment were eased when Young saw what the Rangers got in return -- most notably, shortstop Elvis Andrus and right-handed closer Neftali Feliz.

"We started seeing the kids that we traded Tex for show up in Spring Training, kind of showing what they got," Young said. "You start thinking, 'Wow, when these kids grow up, they are going to be pretty good.'"

Andrus was so good that the Rangers put him at shortstop and moved Young, a perennial All-Star shortstop, to third base.

Young didn't take the position well and his displeasure became a huge story.

"It became public news and I wasn't happy about it, and that's probably the most unfortunate part," he said. "We thought we could bang it out behind closed doors and it didn't happen.

"It got out, and I think me and the organization had been together for a long enough time where we didn't want to embarrass each other. But once that kind of came out, we were able to get back to talking the way we wanted to.

"We got it all banged out, I got to Spring Training and it become a non-issue. I saw Elvis and talked to him for about 10 minutes and at that point it was in the past.

"I embraced my role, I was happy with it, and here we are."