Athletics back in the playoffs; Rays, Angels eliminated
Coco Crisp's latest big hit helped put Oakland back in the playoffs for the first time in six years, and the Athletics beat the first-place Texas Rangers 4-3 on Monday night to remain in contention for a division crown.
Crisp had a go-ahead double in the fifth inning as Oakland (92-68) pulled within one game of Texas (93-67) in the AL West with two to go and moved into a tie with Baltimore for the American League's top wild card.
Pinch-hitter Brandon Moss delivered a sacrifice fly for insurance and Josh Reddick added an RBI single for the resurgent A's, who must sweep this season-ending series against the two-time reigning AL champions to capture the West title.
Michael Young and Mike Napoli each homered against Jarrod Parker, who was otherwise solid in beating the Rangers for the third time in as many career chances — all this year.
Crisp followed the double by stealing his 39th base, then scored on Moss' fly ball to shallow centre. Center fielder Josh Hamilton hesitated ever so slightly before making the throw home, just enough for Crisp to slide in safely.
The reliable leadoff man returned Friday after missing nine starts with an infection in both eyes. Crisp is batting .529 (9 for 17) with seven runs, three doubles, three stolen bases and two RBIs in four games since coming back.
Playing to chants of "Let's go Oakland!" from the crowd of 21,162, the gutsy A's won their fourth straight game and sixth in seven with the very formula that has been working so well: forget the scoreboard-watching and just control their part in the playoff picture. Fans were on their feet chanting as closer Grant Balfour finished it out by striking out the side.
Moments later, players brought bottles of bubbly onto the field and began spraying them into the stands.
Oakland's victory eliminated the Los Angeles Angels and Tampa Bay Rays from playoff contention.
This Oakland team has surprised everyone from owner Lew Wolff to general manager Billy Beane and manager Bob Melvin with its knack for late-inning drama from a long list of players who had barely been heard of before this season.
Parker pitched the A's back to the post-season for the first time since they were swept by Detroit during the 2006 AL championship series. He matched teammate Tommy Milone for the Oakland rookie record of 13 wins.
The right-hander is the latest in a rotation of rookies to come through for an Oakland staff that in trades last winter lost Gio Gonzalez to Washington, Trevor Cahill to Arizona and All-Star closer Andrew Bailey to the Boston Red Sox. Dependable catcher Kurt Suzuki was shipped to the Nationals during the season, and starter Bartolo Colon was suspended in August for testing positive for testosterone.
Melvin emerged as a Manager of the Year candidate with the way he mixed and matched and kept running out a winning club despite injuries to so many players and new faces arriving in the clubhouse seemingly every day for the small-budget A's.
Oakland moved a season-high 24 games over .500 for its best mark since ending that '06 season at 93-69.
"They play with no conscious. They're not afraid of nobody right now," said Rangers manager Ron Washington, Oakland's longtime third-base coach before leaving to manage Texas. "I'm never surprised what happens over in that clubhouse with the Oakland A's. They've always got pitching, and when you've got pitching, you never know what can happen."
This one sure had the feel of a fall October playoff game despite the unseasonably warm 82-degree temperature at first pitch.
The Rangers now must wait at least one more day as they try to clinch their third straight division title. Texas won the second game of Sunday's doubleheader at home against the Angels to secure a third straight playoff appearance for the first time in franchise history and sixth overall.
Then, the Rangers landed at the Oakland airport about 1:30 a.m. Monday and arrived at their hotel after 2 a.m. Washington said he finally got to bed around 3 a.m. local time.
Washington wasn't too tired to weigh in on Oakland's playoff chances, though.
"If they react like they react now, like, 'Who cares?' then it could be [a success]," Washington said. "Being in the post-season is a different animal."
The AL playoff lineup became a little more clear Monday, with two teams clinching spots. Detroit won earlier in the night at Kansas City to wrap up the AL Central crown.
Parker was done after allowing Napoli's leadoff homer in the seventh. Sean Doolittle retired the next three batters in order and Ryan Cook worked a 1-2-3 eighth through the heart of the Rangers' order. Balfour then earned his 23rd save.
Parker improved to 3-0 with a 2.70 ERA against Texas in his fourth straight winning decision and sixth in seven since a loss Aug. 14 at Kansas City.
Texas starter Martin Perez (1-4), facing the A's for the third time in his six major league starts, allowed back-to-back singles by Crisp and Jonny Gomes in the first before receiving a mound visit from pitching coach Mike Maddux. Perez then got Yoenis Cespedes to ground into a double play before walking Chris Carter ahead of Reddick's single.
The left-hander also was called for a balk with the bases loaded to bring home Oakland's second run. Perez lost his second straight start to the A's after a 9-3 defeat his last time out in Texas.
Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre was the designated hitter a day after coming out in the seventh inning when he aggravated his strained left shoulder while leaping for a ball with his arm fully extended. Washington said Beltre could play third base Tuesday night.