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A's route Rangers: Bring on Detroit

 

Oakland Athletics merchandise Oakland, Ca—After 178 days in first place, the Oakland A’s dethroned the two-time AL West division champion Texas Rangers on the final day of the regular season to win their first division title since 2006. The Oakland offense struck first when Brandon Moss hit a double into right field to plate Stephen Drew. The rest of the inning went quietly, but the raucous sellout crowd was engaged. The Rangers quieted the crowd down dramatically in the third, scoring five times in the frame. Most of the Ranger’s hits were shallow fly balls that were just finding holes in the defense, allowing the runners to run around the bases like a carousel ride. A’s starter A.J. Griffin was pulled after two and two-thirds allowing seven hits and five runs while walking two.

Enter the A’s MVP on this warm October afternoon, Evan Scribner. Scribner came in, threw one pitch and got Oakland out of the third, keeping the A’s deficit at 5-1. With the crowd stunned, the A’s went quietly in the bottom half of the inning. In the bottom of the fourth, the bats came alive for the home team. Moss lead the inning off with a walk, and the next batter Josh Reddick doubled to bring him home. After a Josh Donaldson single, the struggling Seth Smith got a single of his own to plate Reddick and cut the Texas lead to 5-3, and chase Ranger’s starter Ryan Dempster from the game. Bob Melvin countered this with a pinch-hit appearance by Derrick Norris for George Kottaras, who had dropped a pop fly in front of home two innings prior. This move just showed that both managers were eager to avoid the one-game playoff against Baltimore in favor of a five-game series that awaited the winner of the game. Norris moved the runners up with a ground out to the right side, and two batters later Coco Crisp doubled down the right field line to tie the game. Following a Stephen Drew walk, Yoenis Cespedes hit a lazy fly ball to center that Josh Hamilton whiffed on, plating two and giving the A’s a 7-5 lead. From this point on, they didn’t look back. Scibner finished his outing with three innings pitched, allowing just two hits.

In the fifth frame, Norris singled up the middle, past a diving Elvis Andrus, to plate Donaldson to increase the A’s lead to 8-5. Andrus was slow to get up, showing a sense of defeat that the entire Ranger ballclub seemed to echo in body language. At this point the entire crowd started counting down the outs for a victory. The always-noisy bleachers just gained steam with every out. Josh Hamilton became the focal point of some boos and heckling from the rowdy O.co Coliseum crowd.

Adrian belter led off the seventh with a single, and Melvin brought in All-Star reliever Ryan Cook. Cook allowed a double to the first batter he faced, pushing Beltre to third with nobody out. Getting out of the inning with just one run allowed would have been perfect, but Cook wasn’t going to settle. He got Michael Young to ground out to third, freezing the runners, and proceeded to strike out the next two batters he faced and allowing no runs to cross the plate. As Norris caught the final pitch from Cook, he pumped his fist and Cook echoed that emotion with some yelling of his own. Doolittle relieved Cook in the 8th, with Melvin leaving nothing to chance, using his bullpen aces that have gotten the A’s this far. He allowed an Andrus walk with two out before striking out Hamilton to end the frame.

In the bottom of the 8th, the A’s blew the game open. The hometown’s favorite .197 hitter, Norris led off the 8th with a solo shot to left off of Texas reliever Alexi Ogando. The A’s loaded the bases and their hottest hitter of late; Brandon Moss stepped in against Robbie Ross and ripped a single to right-center, clearing the bases. Nelson Cruz bobbled the ball in right, allowing Moss to advance to second on the error. Reddick and Donaldson were retired quietly to end the 8th, but the crowd knew that their team was only three outs away from winning the division.

Top of the 9th. Diamond vision turns off. And Metallica’s ‘One’ starts blaring over the speakers as closer Grant Balfour walks in from the bullpen. The bleachers start flailing their arms wildly as they always do when Balfour enters, but this time the energy was electric. Balfour worked an entirely uneventful 9th, capped off by a fly ball to Coco Crisp. The A’s dugout spilled onto the field and they celebrated for their second time in three games at the Ranger’s expense.

The 2012 Oakland Athletics were considered dead before the season began. They were supposed to lose 100 games. There was no way they could compete against a re-tooled Rangers squad, coming off of back-to-back World Series appearances. The Angels were supposed to compete with the Rangers all season with their acquisitions of C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols (among others). But this largely rookie Oakland team and their 59 million dollar payroll won the AL West on the last day of the season. It doesn’t matter where you are at the start, or even the All-Star break. It’s who’s at the top after 162.

 

By: Jason Burke
MLBCenter.com Staff Writer


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