OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Texas Rangers have company in first place in the AL West for the first time since the opening week of the season.
If they can’t get out of their late-season funk Wednesday, they will have to make a run at a third straight trip to the World Series as a wild-card team instead of a division winner.
Travis Blackley allowed one run over six innings in a strong bounce-back performance that helped the Oakland Athletics move into a first-place tie with Texas in the AL West thanks to a 3-1 victory over the Rangers on Tuesday night.
“No one said it was going to be easy,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. “We started out to play 162 games and now — tomorrow — it’s 162. And we’ll see what happens. We take it no different than we have been approaching it. We just haven’t put our game together yet. Tomorrow we have to put it together. If we don’t put it together, we still go to the playoffs.”
A night after holding a raucous celebration after clinching their first playoff berth since 2006, the A’s erased the last piece of what had been a 13-game deficit in the division race on June 30 to take a share of first place for the first time since March 29.
The A’s will try to cap the comeback Wednesday in the final game of the regular season when A.J. Griffin (7-1) takes the mound against Ryan Dempster (7-3). Only four teams have won a division or pennant after trailing by at least 13 games.
The loser will go to the postseason as one of the two AL wild-card teams, needing to win a one-game playoff with Baltimore or the New York Yankees on Friday to advance to the division series. Texas had held sole possession of the AL West lead since April 9.
“We’ve played in these situations the last couple of years,” said Matt Harrison, who allowed three runs in six innings. “So we have that on our side. We know what it takes to win that one game. So I think we’ll be all right.”
Blackley (6-4) gave up three hits and struck out five a week after the Rangers knocked him out with a five-run first inning in the shortest start of his career. He allowed only an RBI double to Josh Hamilton in his longest outing since July 24, just the latest surprising performance in an improbable season for the low-budget A’s.
“I just went out there like I had nothing to lose and it worked out,” Blackley said.
Derek Norris gave Oakland the lead in the fifth with an RBI single that scored a second run when right fielder Nelson Cruz bobbled the ball in right field for an error. Jonny Gomes added a solo homer in the sixth and the bullpen did the rest in Oakland’s fifth straight win.
Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook each pitched a scoreless inning and Grant Balfour worked a perfect ninth for his 24th save in 26 chances. Balfour has three saves and a win in the last four days.
“As long as we believe inside this clubhouse and we know we can get it down, we’re going to do it. I honestly believe we’re going to win tomorrow,” Balfour said. “Nothing is guaranteed, but it’s about as good as. I believe we can go out and get it done.”
The Rangers never expected to be in this position. But they have lost six of eight games and need one more victory to win their third straight division title.
“We have a great opportunity tomorrow,” third baseman Michael Young said. “The way I see it we can start our run tomorrow. We’re looking forward to it. We played in games like this before and the `W’ is all that matters. There’s nothing like it. This is what baseball and big leagues is all about.”
Texas had been counting on Harrison (18-11) to wrap up the title but he couldn’t come through. He had been cruising along, retiring 10 straight batters before running into trouble in the fifth. Josh Donaldson led off with a single and advanced to third on Brandon Moss’ double. Norris then lined a single to right field that scored Donaldson with the tying run. Third base coach Mike Gallego initially held up Moss, but Cruz bobbled the ball for an error that allowed Moss to score.
Oakland tacked on an insurance run when Gomes hit his 18th homer with two outs in the sixth to make it 3-1, delighting the crowd of 30,660.
NOTES: The A’s estimated a walk-up crowd of 12,000. … The gametime temperature of 87 degrees was the warmest of the year in Oakland. … The other teams to come back from at least 13 games down were the 1914 Boston Braves, the 1951 New York Giants, the `78 Yankees and the `95 Seattle Mariners. … Oakland reliever Pat Neshek will miss the final two games for the birth of his first child. … Texas RHP Mike Adams rejoined the team after receiving a cortisone injection in his strained neck Monday. It is unknown when he will be able to pitch again.