Athletics blow out Rangers, win American League West

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.

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