OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) – The Oakland Athletics had been down and doubted so many times during this remarkable year that a four-run deficit against the two-time reigning AL champions hardly fazed this get-after-it bunch.
They rallied, thanks to the same grit and determined, prove-you-wrong approach this group has demonstrated since Day 1.
From 13 games back on June 30 to AL West champions on the final day.
“We knew all along we had the chance to do it,” right fielder Josh Reddick said. “We swept New York here, we swept Boston here. Doing it to these guys was never out of the question.”
The A’s captured their first division crown in six years with another improbable rally in a season full of them, coming back once more to stun the Texas Rangers 12-5 Wednesday.
The A’s needed a sweep and they delivered. 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.
“I don’t think a single one of us was worried,” said Brandon Moss, who drove in three runs. “We weren’t supposed to be here, for one. For two, they were the ones with everything to lose today. They had the division lead almost all season and they were trying to cling to it. We had nothing to lose. Everything was ours to win.”
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.
The A’s are Motown-bound again.
While Hamilton’s Rangers (93-69) are headed to the new one-game, wild-card playoff at home against Baltimore on Friday, the A’s get two days off before opening the division series at Detroit on Saturday in their first postseason appearance since being swept by the Tigers in the 2006 AL championship series.
It was snowing in Detroit when the A’s arrived in the Motor City that time.
“It’s going to be a tough matchup,” manager Bob Melvin said. “They have a very powerful lineup that can certainly score some runs. They also have great starting pitching. We will have our work cut out for us.”
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.
“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.”
Coco Crisp hit a tying two-run double in the fourth against Derek Holland (12-7). Moss hit 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 hitter, including 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 earthquake-interrupted 1989 championship swept by Oakland.
Hamilton’s miscue while charging forward might haunt the to-be free agent if his Rangers don’t get past their wild-card game.
Murphy’s two-run single highlighted a five-run third inning that put Texas in prime position.
“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 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.
“It’s kind of like the story of our whole season. Nothing has been easy,” reliever Sean Doolittle said. “End of June, we were 13 back of those guys. We’ve had injuries, we’ve had a lot of young guys step up, we’ve had a lot of guys coming up and down. We were never out of it. You could feel the vibe.”
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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