A's force showdown with Texas for AL West crown

A's force showdown with Texas for AL West crown

A's force showdown with Texas for AL West crown
OAKLAND -- Though not built on riches, the A's may still take the crown.

Come Wednesday, in Game 162, the American League West will be up for grabs, and thanks to Tuesday's 3-1 victory over the Rangers, the A's fifth straight win, the club once burdened by a 13-game deficit has a chance to take the title.

After clinching its first postseason appearance since 2006 on Monday, Oakland again stalled what once seemed like an inevitable Rangers celebration. So the champagne sits, with Wednesday's winner not only awarded with the bubbly but a spot in the best-of-five AL Division Series, rather than a pressure-filled one-game Wild Card playoff.

The young A's and their manager, Bob Melvin, would surely prefer locking up the former scenario, especially in front of a home crowd that has been forced to watch the Rangers steal away the AL West championship in each of the last two years. In doing so, Oakland would become just the fifth team in history to come back from a deficit of 13 games to win a division title.

"Whoever thought that we would be here? I know we did," said Grant Balfour, who picked up the save. "We believed in ourselves more than anyone else, and as long as we believe inside this clubhouse and know that we can get it done, then we're going to do it. I honestly believe that we're going to win tomorrow. Nothing's a guarantee, but it's about as good as one. I believe we're going to go out and get it done."

"This isn't Game 7 of the World Series," said Jonny Gomes. "It's not win or go home. We're going to play loose, have fun. Hopefully tomorrow we get our pitching, defense and homers. That's what it's been for us."

It was no different on this night, which concluded with the A's rising 25 games over .500 for the first time since Sept. 28, 2006.

Ensuring the opportunity of Wednesday's looming showdown was lefty Travis Blackley, a 29-year-old rookie who was pitching in South Korea at this time last year. Despite having failed to make it past the second inning in his previous two starts, Blackley rose to the occasion and completed six, all the while allowing just one run and collecting a pair of crucial double plays to beat the Rangers' steady hand, Matt Harrison.

"I didn't even think about the past," said Blackley, his voice crackling as a result of an emotional few days. "I tried to let it not creep into my head. Whenever I started to, I reminded myself that I'm here for a reason, because I earned my way here, and I started to trust my stuff. I went at them like I had nothing to lose."

It marked the 100th start by an A's rookie this year, second most in Oakland history. Blackley was tremendous from the start, retiring the side in order in the first, just five days after surrendering five Rangers runs in the same inning. His lone mistake came in the third, when Josh Hamilton doubled home Ian Kinsler.

But Oakland, staring down a 1-0 deficit, took the lead in the fifth, when Derek Norris collected an RBI hit with runners on second and third, right fielder Nelson Cruz's fielding error on the play allowing the second run to score.

The veteran Gomes provided his club a dose of insurance in the sixth, launching a solo home run to right field off Harrison, who was done after the inning, having allowed all three Oakland runs.

And, just as they had done the night before, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook and Balfour nailed down three shutout innings in front of a raucous crowd to complete the victory, one that seemingly upped the pressure on the other side.

"Obviously you want to win the division. You don't want to be the Wild Card," Texas' Mike Napoli said. "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."

A determined A's team is ready to stop them.

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.