The Rangers had hoped to secure a third straight AL West title by now. Instead, the Athletics moved into to a tie with a 3-1 victory on Tuesday night at the Oakland Coliseum. Texas has now lost eight of its last 12 games and shares the division lead for the first time since April 8 -- the third day of the season.
"We've still got something to play for," manager Ron Washington said after addressing his team in the clubhouse. "I don't want them hanging their heads. I let them know I still have their backs and I'm proud of them. We've got one game to play and we've got to come out and play it."
Ryan Dempster will pitch for the Rangers on Wednesday afternoon against Athletics rookie right-hander A.J. Griffin in a winner-takes-division showdown. Both teams have clinched playoff spots, but there is still much at stake.
If the Rangers lose, they will go into the postseason as one of the two Wild Card teams with the distinct possibility of facing that one-game playoff on the road. If the Rangers lose and Baltimore wins on Wednesday, the Rangers will be on the road for the Wild Card game against either the Orioles or Yankees.
If the Orioles win and the Yankees lose, those two teams will play Thursday for the AL East title. The loser would host the Rangers-Athletics loser in the Wild Card game on Friday. If the Rangers finish tied with the Orioles, the Wild Card game would be Friday at Rangers Ballpark.
Yu Darvish will start for the Rangers in any Wild Card scenario.
"You want to win the division," catcher Mike Napoli said. "You don't want to be the Wild Card. There's no panic in here. There's a lot of veteran guys in here. We know how to let this day go and get on to the next day. We know we're a good baseball team. We're going to go out there and lay it on the line and try to win the division tomorrow."
If the Rangers are to avoid the risk that comes with a one-game Wild Card tilt, they must win on Wednesday.
"We haven't lost anything yet," Washington said. "I'm not disappointed, because we still have a chance. If we didn't have a chance, I'd be disappointed. We'll play tomorrow and see what happens."
The Rangers had a four-game lead with seven left to play. Now they are tied with a team that has won five straight and 32 of its last 45 games.
"There's no point thinking about what is done," Young said. "We have a great opportunity to start our push tomorrow. We've played in games before where winning is all that matters. We love it. It's all fire and grit. That's what baseball is all about."
Rangers starter Matt Harrison had a 1-0 lead going into the bottom of the fifth inning Tuesday but allowed a leadoff single to Josh Donaldson and a double by Brandon Moss. That put runners second and third, and Derek Norris followed with a single to right. That brought home Donaldson, and Moss came around as well when right fielder Nelson Cruz fumbled the ball for an error.
That gave the Athletics a 2-1 lead, and Jonny Gomes added a home run in the sixth inning. That was more than enough as Athletics starter Travis Blackley held the Rangers to one run in six innings and the Athletics got three scoreless innings from their bullpen for the second straight night.
"Experience always helps, but being naive to the situation also helps," outfielder Josh Hamilton said. "You know what I mean? Which is also a good place to be at. I don't expect it to be any less of a game [Wednesday] than it has been the last two nights. Hopefully we'll just put a little more offense on the board."
The Rangers got one run off Blackley in the third when Ian Kinsler drew a one-out walk and scored on a two-out double by Hamilton. But the Rangers managed just five hits on the night, they were 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position and grounded into three double plays.
"Those guys are playing well," outfielder David Murphy said. "They have earned where they are at. Tomorrow is a huge game. It should be a lot of fun. We haven't played to our standards lately. Getting off to a good start offensively, that will help."