OAKLAND -- The A’s, going where few have gone before, finally took over first place Wednesday, on the last day of the season, blasting the reigning AL champ Texas Rangers out of the proverbial water, 12-5, before a raucous crowd of 36,067.
The team announced during the game that it had sold 10,000 standing room tickets in the largely tarped-over ballpark. But in fact, for this game, there was a lot more standing than that.
They were on their feet in the first inning, when Stephen Drew and Yoenis Cespedes singled. They were on their feet when Brandon Moss doubled down the right field line to score Drew. They were on their feet all through the bottom of the fourth, when Moss walked and Josh Reddick doubled him home, then scored on Seth Smith’s single up the middle.
They really got on their feet three batters later, when Coco Crisp tied the game – the Rangers had gone ahead, 5-1, with five runs in the top of the third – plated Smith and Josh Donaldson with a double in the right-field corner.
It was pandemonium when Rangers centerfielder Josh Hamilton dropped Cespedes’ high fly to shallow center, scoring Crisp and Drew, who’d walked.
The team, which has seemingly taken the “one game at a time” mantra to heart, never looked back.
Donaldson scored again in the fifth on catcher Derek Norris’ single, so when Rangers slugger Hamilton came up in the eighth with a man on, reliever Sean Doolittle had a three-run cushion as he challenged the slugger with his mid-90s heat.
This was not Hamilton’s day, or series, though. Rookie Doolittle, who only began pitching last year after being drafted as an outfielder in 2007, struck him out swinging, as Ryan Cook and game winner Evan Scribner had earlier in the game.
Having hit 43 home runs this season, Hamilton was in a position to deny Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera baseball’s first triple crown since 1967, but the A’s pitching almost completely shut him down. While Cabrera went 0-2 in Kansas City, and finished the season with a .330 batting average, 139 RBIs and 44 home runs, Hamilton went 1-for-5 on the day, and struck out swinging in his last three at-bats. Besides the galling error, in the three-game sweep, he went 2-for-13, striking out six times and hitting into a double play on Tuesday.
After Hamilton’s inning-ending strikeout, the crowd never did find its seats again. The A’s batted around in the bottom of the eighth, starting with Norris’ home run into the left field bleachers, which was followed by two walks and a botched fielder’s choice to load the bases for Moss, who belted one into right. He got two RBIs for the hit, as the scorer ruled that Cespedes scored, and Moss got second, only because Texas right-fielder Nelson Cruz bobbled the ball.
From there, it was left to closer Grant Balfour, making his entrance as Metallica blasted from the PA, to retire Adrian Beltre, Cruz and Michael Young in order to get the silliness started -- a victory lap around the stadium, champagne and beer showers –- and then, the Division Series, against Cabrera’s Tigers, starting Saturday in Detroit.
Notes: The team’s accomplishments this season are too numerous to list here, but no team has made the playoffs before while relying so heavily on untested pitchers, who now comprise the A’s entire starting staff. Only twice before has a team that had never been in first place all year found itself there at season’s end.
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