OAKLAND, Calif. — The Oakland Athletics captured the AL West with another improbable rally in a season full of them, coming back from four runs down and a 13-game division deficit to stun the two-time defending league champion Texas Rangers 12-5 on Wednesday.
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. Hamilton’s Rangers (93-69) are headed to the new one-game, wild-card playoff on the heels of just their second three-game sweep of 2012.
Both teams had to wait to learn their opponents from a pair of night games: Boston at New York, and Baltimore at Tampa Bay.
The A’s would earn the AL’s No. 1 seed if the Yankees lose, and open the division series at the winner of Friday’s wild-card playoff featuring the Rangers. If New York wins, Oakland would be the No. 2 seed and begin at Detroit.
The A’s needed a sweep and they delivered to win their first division crown since 2006 and 15th in all. They overcame a five-game deficit in the final nine days and Wednesday was their first day this year in sole possession of the West’s top spot.
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 together in the infield.
“2012 AL WEST CHAMPIONS” flashed on the scoreboard.
Make it two champagne celebrations in three days for these A’s. They clinched a playoff spot Monday and held a wild champagne dance party in the clubhouse.
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, the lowest in baseball. General manager Billy Beane found ways to get a blue-collar franchise back to the playoffs for the first time since being swept by Detroit in the 2006 AL championship series.
“It was all part of the plan,” Beane said before the game, planning to watch alone from the weight room in his usual routine. “It’s a good day.”
Coco Crisp hit a tying two-run double in the fourth against Derek Holland (12-7). Brandon Moss drove in three runs, including a two-run single in a four-run eighth.
Rookie Evan Scribner (2-0) left the mound to a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 30,067 and wound up the winning pitcher. He allowed two hits and struck out two in three scoreless innings after replacing struggling starter A.J. Griffin.
Jerry Blevins relieved Scribner and struck out Hamilton to end the sixth before allowing a leadoff single to Adrian Beltre in the seventh. Ryan Cook, pitching for a fifth consecutive game, replaced Blevins and gave up a double to Nelson Cruz before retiring the next three Texas hitters with 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.
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 1989 championship swept by Oakland, one interrupted by an earthquake.
Hamilton’s miscue might haunt the to-be free agent if his Rangers don’t get past their wild-card game. These are the same Rangers who twice came within one strike of the franchise’s first World Series championship before losing Games 6 and 7 to the wild-card St. Louis Cardinals. It was Texas’ second near miss in as many years after losing the 2010 World Series to the Giants.
Nats 5, Phillies 1
WASHINGTON — The NL East champion Washington Nationals secured home-field advantage throughout the postseason by beating the Philadelphia Phillies 5-1 Wednesday for their majors-high 98th victory, with Ryan Zimmerman homering moments after the Teddy Roosevelt mascot won the Presidents Race at Nationals Park for the first time.
By winning their regular-season finale, the Nationals clinched top seeding for the NL playoffs and will open on the road Sunday at the winner of Friday’s wild-card game between Atlanta and St. Louis. Game 2 will also be at the wild-card winner’s stadium, before the best-of-five series shifts to Washington.
Before Wednesday’s game, the Nationals were fitted for hats with postseason patches.
A team from the nation’s capital hasn’t participated in Major League Baseball action beyond the regular season since the Senators lost the 1933 World Series.
All in all, it was a festive day for the announced crowd of 37,075 and the Nationals (98-64), a club that hadn’t finished higher than third place since moving from Montreal in 2005 and twice lost 100 games in a season. This is the first time the Expos/Nationals franchise has finished first in a complete season.
Philadelphia finished third in the division at 81-81, ending a streak of nine straight winning seasons and five consecutive playoff appearances. The nine winning seasons matched the team record set from 1975-83 — the Phillies followed that by going 81-81 in 1984.
Edwin Jackson (10-11) became Washington’s fifth pitcher with at least 10 wins, giving up one run and six hits over 6 2-3 innings. He left to a standing ovation, one of several on a muggy afternoon with the temperature in the 70s.
Rookie Tyler Moore’s solo shot in the sixth inning made him the seventh member of the Nationals with at least 10 homers this season.
Braves 4, Bucs 0
PITTSBURGH — Jason Heyward singled twice and scored two runs as the playoff-bound Atlanta Braves beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-0 in their regular-season finale on Wednesday.
Chipper Jones added a pinch-hit single in his final regular-season at-bat for Atlanta, which hosts St. Louis in the wild-card playoff on Friday.
Luis Avilan (1-0) won on a day the Braves used eight pitchers to hold Pittsburgh to four hits. Ben Sheets started and pitched one scoreless inning in his last major league appearance.
A.J. Burnett (16-10) gave up four runs in 5 2-3 innings for Pittsburgh. The Pirates finished 79-83, extending their record streak of losing seasons to 20.
A regular-season finale that looked like it might be important a month ago had a decidedly spring training feel after the Pirates collapsed down the stretch and the Braves secured the top wild-card spot.
A large number of Atlanta fans showed up to bid the retirement-bound Jones farewell, though it appeared their only glimpse of the third baseman would come when he handed the lineup card to umpires. The 40-year-old planned on sitting out a second straight game to get some rest before the playoffs, but was inserted as a pinch hitter leading off the sixth.
The switch-hitting Jones didn’t waste any time. Standing in as a left-hander against Burnett, Jones slapped the first pitch he saw to right field for a single for the 2,726th and final hit of his career. Jones stuck around to eventually score on a single by Brian McCann that put Atlanta up 3-0.
That was more than enough to send the Braves into the postseason on an up note and send Sheets out a winner in his final game.MORE IN Sports Wire
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