By JANIE McCAULEY, Associated Press
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — This time, it was manager Bob Melvin who took a whipped cream pie in the face.
All those walk-off wins from guys hardly known beyond the Bay Area until now, all those moving parts and the long list of injury reports day after day, Melvin has had as big a hand in Oakland's return to the playoffs as anybody — and his players will swear by it.
So, fittingly, it was his turn to be celebrated.
Josh Reddick planted the pie in the skipper's face moments after a 4-3 win over the Texas Rangers on Monday night.
The upstart, scrappy, no-fear A's are now the playoff-bound A's.
They still hope to be AL West champions, too. Two more wins against the two-time reigning AL champion Rangers would do it.
Coco Crisp's latest big hit helped put the A's in the playoffs for the first time in six years, and they remained in contention for a division crown.
"We want to come out here and compete way above our means," Crisp said of the low-budget franchise. "We're going to enjoy it right now."
Crisp had a go-ahead double in the fifth inning as the A's (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.
Oakland's victory also eliminated the Los Angeles Angels and Tampa Bay Rays from playoff contention.
This youthful bunch of A's partied like they'd never done this before — and that's because most of them haven't.
Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes — hat on backward, goggles on, bottle in hand — danced in the middle of the clubhouse as others quickly joined the fun.
"It's getting beyond believable at this point," said opening day starter Brandon McCarthy, sidelined after getting hit in the head by a line drive Sept. 5 and undergoing surgery. "There's no reason we should be here at this point. Every single person keeps coming in and stepping up and filling in."
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.
"Absolutely amazing," Melvin said. "We don't get this done unless everybody believes in everybody and everybody plays selflessly."
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 center. 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. Outside the aging Coliseum, car horns honked as this blue-collar city enjoyed its big moment on the baseball stage.
"Awesome! Unbelievable," Balfour said mid-celebration. "I want to keep doing it."
This Oakland team has surprised everyone from owner Lew Wolff to general manager Billy Beane and Melvin with its knack for late-inning drama from a long list of players who had barely been heard of before this season.
"I never thought we'd be here this time of year," Wolff said. "The youth of this group is so amazing. The last time we did this we had a pretty mature group. Here we've got guys who will be with us a long time. I'm excited for this year and next year and the year after. We're in the best shape we've ever been for the future."
Parker pitched the A's back to the postseason for the first time since they were swept by Detroit in the 2006 AL championship series. He matched teammate Tommy Milone for the Oakland rookie record of 13 wins.
"Sky high," Parker said of his team's confidence. "This is a team that knows it can do a lot of things. It's no surprise to me. It might be a surprise to everybody else."
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.
"I'm not sending any message. My team knows what needs to be done," Washington said. "The message was sent yesterday."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.