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Athletics stun Rangers, take American League West

Climaxing an almost unbelievable comeback -- they were 13 games out of first place on the 1st of July -- the A's are hosting the Rangers in a game that will decide the American League West.

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A's blow out Rangers, make all sorts of history

Which is your favorite amazing thing about the 2012 Oakland Athletics, who beat the Texas Rangers, 12-5, in their last game of the regular season to capture the American League West title?

Is it that the A's are only the third first-place team in major-league history to spend just one day in sole possession of first place?*

* The others were the 1951 New York Giants and the 2006 Minnesota Twins.

Is it that the A's are just the fifth team in major-league history to finish in first place despite being, at some point in the season, at least 13 games out of first place?*

* The others were Boston's "Miracle Braves" in 1914, those '51 Giants, the '78 Yankees, and the '95 Mariners.

Is it that the A's have gotten more from rookie starting pitchers than any other postseason team in major-league history?*

* Too many statistics to even get into here.

Wednesday against the Rangers -- oh, and thank you very much, schedule-makers! -- the A's used some of what got them this far, but everything didn't go exactly according to plan.

They've relied on their rookie starting pitchers all season long -- and especially when Bartolo Colon and later Brandon McCarthy were lost -- but on this day, rookie A.J. Griffin got knocked out in the third inning. At that point, the A's trailed 5-1 and things looked bleak.

They've relied on home runs all season long, but especially in the second half of the season when they led the major leagues in that category. Wednesday, though, they didn't hit a home run until the eighth inning, when Derek Norris's blast to left field made the score 9-5.

What was familiar, though? Sterling bullpen work, for one thing. Evan Scribner took over for Griffin, and tossed three scoreless innings. After Jerry Blevins struck out Josh Hamilton to end the sixth and gave up a hit to open the seventh, rookie Ryan Cook came in to pitch in his fifth straight game, and tossed a scoreless inning. Rookie Sean Doolittle pitched a scoreless eighth. And finally, closer Grant Balfour pitched in his fifth straight game and finished off the Rangers.

They hardly needed Balfour, though. Not with that seven-run lead. The onslaught began in the bottom of the fourth inning, when the A's turned that 5-1 deficit into a 7-5 lead. First they knocked out Rangers starter Ryan Dempster with four straight hits and a couple of runs. And they finished their scoring with two runs courtesy of Josh Hamilton ...

The A's made it 8-5 in the fifth, with Norris driving home Josh Donaldson with a base hit. And finally, four more runs in the eighth. Norris opened the scoring with his homer, and Brandon Moss later drove a bases-loaded single to center, the bases clearing when Nelson Cruz overran the ball.

In the top of the ninth, Balfour retired Adrian Beltre on a fly ball, then struck out Nelson Cruz. At 3:53 Pacific Daylight Time, Coco Crisp nestled under Ian Kinsler's high fly to center. When Crisp squeezed the baseball, the Oakland Athletics completed one of the more amazing and unlikely seasons in the sport's long and storied history.

The Texas Rangers, of course, are still alive. But as Wild Cards, not champions. The A's are the champions. And nobody in the whole world saw it coming.


Josh Hamilton has had better days

This is why you don't want a one-game playoff. Weird is out there, waiting to pounce. Weird is lurking around every corner. You want to protect your family from weird, don't you? You can't. You have to go limp, act dead, and hope weird passes you by.

Weird is Josh Hamilton doing this:

That was with two outs, and it led to two runs for the A's. At least Hamilton had the courtesy to get a glove on the ball, which made the runs unearned.

The Hamilton error capped off a six-run inning for the A's, giving them a 7-5 lead. They'd tack on another run in the fifth, pushing the lead 8-5.

There was wind, sun, and those horrible vuvuzelas with which to contend, but it's still hard to imagine how Hamilton missed that. That's a play an outfielder makes once a year, if that. For Hamilton, it happened during the 162nd game of the season with runners on base in the most important game of the year.

I'm sure Hamilton felt that pressure, but he's veteran enough to play it cool and take a load off.

Man. What a weird moment, game, season.


Hamilton errs, A's score 6 in 4th inning

One thing about these 2012 Oakland Athletics: We shouldn't give up on them.

Not when they're 13 games out of first place almost halfway through the season. And not when they're down 5-1 in the fourth inning of what's essentially a one-game playoff for the American League West title.

After taking a 1-0 lead over the Rangers in the first inning of today's championship game, the A's and starting pitcher A.J. Griffin gave up five sloppy runs in the top of the third. It would have been easy, at that point, to assume that sanity and reason and statistical likelihood had finally taken over, and would sit atop its arrogant throne for at least the rest of the afternoon.

That assumption wouldn't survive for even two full innings. Because in the bottom of the fourth, the A's strung together four straight hits off Rangers starter Ryan Dempster; the second of them was Josh Reddick's run-scoring double to the wall in left-center, and the fourth was Seth Smith's single that plated Reddick.

And with that, Ron Washington came out and yanked Dempster, with two runners aboard, nobody out, and the deficit suddenly only two runs. Derek Holland trotted in from the bullpen, and got a couple of quick outs ... only to watch as Coco Crisp shot a line drive into the right-field corner, fair by just a foot or so as two runners came around to make the score 5-5.

After walking Stephen Drew, Holland escaped even more damage by getting Yoenis Cespedes to lift a high fly to short center field, where Josh Hamilton made the easy catch dropped it! While both runners were circling the bases, with Cespedes landing on second. That made the score 7-5, the carnage finally ending when Brandon Moss hit a sharp grounder to first base.


Rangers open up 5-1 lead with two-out hits

Well, this isn't as exciting as I'd hoped.

The Rangers scored a run in the third inning, with Adrian Beltre knocking in a run and tying the playoff to see who'd play the play-in for the playoffs, 1-1. After Nelson Cruz popped a ball into right that ended up being a force play at second, there were two outs and runners on first and third. The A's had a chance to get out of the inning with minimal damage.

The sequence after that: Double, single, error, single. After the bleeding was staunched, the Rangers were up 5-1. And that's how the West was won.

Right? I mean ... there's no way a team can come back from a deficit like that. Especially against a team as good as the Rangers. I'd like to see it!

No, really, I would. And the A's win expectancy dropped to 14.1 percent with the latest run -- about three times the likelihood of them winning the division back in May. So pretending like a comeback is impossible would be kind of nuts. But it's certainly unlikely.

Of course, all of this is.

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