By JANIE McCAULEY, Associated Press
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — 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.
While Hamilton's Rangers (93-69) are headed to the new one-game, wild-card playoff, the A's get some time off before opening the division series in their first postseason appearance since 2006.
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 in six years and 15th in all. They overcame a five-game deficit in the final nine days and took sole possession of the West's top spot for the first time this year.
"It shows how important Game 162 is," Oakland's Jonny Gomes said. "I don't think it took 162 to games to check the character of this ballclub."
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 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 dance party in the clubhouse.
This time — in new gray AL West champion T-shirts — players took a victory lap through the rundown Coliseum, where the outfield still has a light patch of grass from football in the venue shared by the NFL's Raiders.
While the A's players circled the field, injured infielder Brandon Inge sprinted toward the right-field bleachers by himself, raised a gray T-shirt to the crowd then began dancing alone.
Soon, the celebratory champagne and beer made its way to the field — and players sprayed it into the stands.
Players came back onto the field almost an hour later to greet the fans still gathered along the top of the dugout.
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, 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.