In the American League West, an entire season will come down to one game.
Heading into Tuesday night, the math was exceptionally simple: If the Rangers could beat the Athletics, they would clinch the American League West championship and a first-round bye in the postseason; if the Athletics could beat the Rangers, they would live to fight one more day for first place, with the division title decided on Wednesday afternoon in Game 162.
Well, maybe not that simple. With the Orioles and Yankees still battling for first place in the East, there are still all sorts of home-field issues to be determined, with nobody yet knowing where or when they're playing. But for the A's to keep their first-place chances alive, they had to pull into a first-place tie with the Rangers, Tuesday night.
And they did it, before a huge (for the A's) crowd of 30,660.
In the second inning, A's starter Travis Blackley escaped a first-and-third jam when Mike Napoli lined out and Geovany Soto struck out. But Blackley wasn't as fortunate in the top of the third. Ian Kinsler drew a one-out walk, and came all the around to score a few moments later when Josh Hamilton drove a double into the gap in right-center field to give his club a 1-0 lead.
Meanwhile, Rangers ace Matt Harrison was cruising ... until the bottom of the fifth. Josh Donaldson led off with a line-drive single to center fielder, and moved to third when Brandon Moss shot a double into the right-field corner. And the A's took a 2-1 lead when Derek Norris shot a single into right field and Moss followed Donaldson home when Nelson Cruz fumbled the baseball. Harrison did escape the inning by getting Adam Rosales to hit into a double play and retiring Coco Crisp on a pop fly to second.
In the sixth, Jonny Gomes made it 3-1 when he drove an inside fastball from Harrison over the left-field fence.
From there, the A's bullpen took over, as it so often has in the second half of the season. Rookie Sean Doolittle pitched a scoreless seventh, thanks to a convenient around-the-horn double play. Rookie Ryan Cook, pitching in a fourth straight game, pitched a scoreless eighth. He's now pitched scoreless baseball in 21 of his 22 outings since being demoted from closer to a setup role. And Grant Balfour finished off the Rangers in the ninth, preserving the 3-1 victory and converting his 17th straight save opportunity since taking over as closer six weeks ago. He did it in style, too; after Cliff Pennington made a nice play on Josh Hamilton's grounder up the middle, Balfour struck out both Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz, swinging.
So, improbably enough, first place and that first-round bye are still up for grabs. When July dawned, the Oakland Athletics were 13 games out of first place. Now, with one game left in the season, they're just one victory away from making up 14 games in the standings. Game 162 is scheduled to begin at 12:35 Pacific, with Rangers veteran Ryan Dempster matched up against A.J. Griffin ... a rookie, of course.