Athletics sweep Rangers to win AL West on last day
Oakland, Calif. - Same chaotic, champagne dance-party scene in the clubhouse just two days later. New T-shirt: AL West champions.
The Oakland Athletics won the division title with another improbable rally in a season full of them, coming back from four runs down and a 13-game division deficit to stun the two-time defending league champion Texas Rangers 12-5 on Wednesday.
"We knew this is a beast of a team we would have to beat, and to be able to beat them three games in a row and win the division on top of it, really it's a magical-type thing," manager Bob Melvin said.
Josh Hamilton dropped a fly ball in center field for a two-run error that put the A's (94-68) ahead 7-5 in a six-run fourth inning. The A's only added to Texas' troubles the rest of the way.
While Hamilton's Rangers (93-69) are headed to the new one-game, wild-card playoff, the A's get some time off before opening the division series in their first postseason appearance since 2006.
"You can have all the experience as you want but when you run into a team that's hot, experience has nothing to do with it," Texas manager Ron Washington said.
The A's needed a sweep and they delivered to win their first division crown in six years and 15th in all. They overcame a five-game deficit in the final nine days and took sole possession of the West's top spot for the first time this year.
"It shows how important Game 162 is," Oakland's Jonny Gomes said. "I don't think it took 162 to games to check the character of this ballclub."
Grant Balfour retired Michael Young on a fly to center for the final out, then raised his arms in the air as the A's streamed out of the dugout and began bouncing up and down in the infield.
"2012 AL WEST CHAMPIONS" flashed on the scoreboard two days after the A's clinched a playoff spot Monday and held a wild dance party in the clubhouse.
"I'm glad there's not one tomorrow or Friday," owner Lew Wolff said. "I can relax and go home. I'm running out of underwear."
Players high-fived fans while taking a victory lap through the rundown Coliseum, where the outfield still has a light patch of grass from football in the venue shared by the NFL's Raiders.
Soon, the celebratory champagne and beer made its way to the field - and players sprayed it into the stands. The A's returned to the field almost an hour later to greet fans still gathered along the top of the dugout.
Oakland pulled off another remarkable performance in a season defined by thrilling walkoffs, rallies and whipped-cream pie celebrations by a team that was never supposed to be here.
A club that trailed Texas by 13 games on June 30. A club with a $59.5 million payroll, lowest in baseball. General manager Billy Beane found ways to get a blue-collar franchise back to the playoffs for the first time since being swept by Detroit in the 2006 AL championship series.
Coco Crisp hit a tying two-run double in the fourth against Derek Holland (12-7) and Brandon Moss drove in three runs, including a two-run single in the four-run eighth.
Rookie winning pitcher Evan Scribner (2-0) left the mound in the sixth to a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 30,067. He allowed two hits and struck out two in three scoreless innings after replacing struggling starter A.J. Griffin.
Ryan Cook, pitching for a fifth consecutive game, gave up a double to Nelson Cruz before retiring the next three Texas hitters with strikeouts of David Murphy and Mike Napoli. Catcher Derek Norris pumped his right arm as the Coliseum fans jumped to their feet.
Norris then homered leading off the bottom of the eighth for his second RBI. It was his seventh homer and Oakland's majors-leading 112th since the All-Star break.
"Ever since Day 1 I've been here, it's been, the A's can't compete with the payroll, can't compete with this team or that team," Norris said.
"We're better off if we're down. It just gives us the extra energy."
The A's join the NL West champion San Francisco Giants as division champions. The Bay Area is already buzzing about a possible Bay Bridge World Series like the 1989 championship swept by Oakland, one interrupted by an earthquake.
Hamilton's miscue while charging forward might haunt the to-be free agent if his Rangers don't get past their wild-card game.
"I just missed it, man," Hamilton said. "You guys have a hard time believing we can forget about it and move ahead. But that's what we get paid to do."
Murphy's two-run single highlighted a five-run third inning that put Texas in prime position.
In the fourth, Moss drew a leadoff walk and Josh Reddick followed with an RBI double. Josh Donaldson singled and Seth Smith's base hit made it 5-3 and chased Ryan Dempster with none out and runners on first and second.
Washington turned to the lefty Holland, a starter who was tagged for four runs in the first inning of the second game of Sunday's doubleheader with the Angels before working into the seventh.
He retired the first two batters before Crisp's double down the right-field line.
The only other teams to come back from at least 13 games down to win the division were the 1914 Boston Braves, the 1951 New York Giants, the "78 Yankees and the "95 Seattle Mariners.
Oakland accomplished this with an ever-changing roster managed by Melvin in his first full season as skipper. They lost third baseman Scott Sizemore to a knee injury on the first full day of spring training workouts, never promoted slugger Manny Ramirez from the minors before parting ways, and dealt with devastating injuries all year long.
Opening day starter Brandon McCarthy took a line drive to the head Sept. 5 that required surgery and ended his season, Brett Anderson missed most of the year coming off Tommy John surgery, and Dallas Braden never pitched because of shoulder problems. Starter Bartolo Colon received a 50-game suspension in August for a positive testosterone test.
Third baseman Brandon Inge needed shoulder surgery last month and prized Cuban rookie Yoenis Cespedes missed time with a pair of injuries in May and June.
And that's just the beginning for a team that traded away catcher Kurt Suzuki to the Nationals during the year after swapping three top pitchers during the offseason - Trevor Cahill to Arizona, NL Cy Young Award favorite and 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez to Washington and All-Star closer Andrew Bailey to Boston.
"There hasn't been a lot of luck involved," said Beane, who received a celebratory pie in the face. "The one thing about baseball, when you play 161 games, you don't get lucky this late in the season. There have been a lot of adjustments on the fly."
NOTES: The A's, whose 14 walkoff victories lead baseball, won their seventh game this year after trailing by four or more runs. ... The A's won the season series 11-8, just the second time in seven seasons they've done so. ... The sellout crowd included 1,000 standing-room only tickets. ... Holland pitched in relief for the second time this year.
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