- Philadelphia Phillies at Washington Nationals;
- Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees;
- Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays;
- San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers; and
- Cincinnati Reds at St. Louis Cardinals.
Out of all those match ups, what oracle would have ever predicted that the game between the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics would be the most meaningful or have the biggest impact on the post season schedule? Imagine suggesting on July 1st, with Oakland 13 games back of the Rangers and five games under .500, that in three months time, that the A’s would be playing for a chance at the division title on the last regular season game of the year. You’d be accused of trolling on Twitter, if anyone actually took you seriously enough to believe that you were being genuine.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about today’s game is that its importance wasn’t necessarily caused by Texas choking down the stretch or anything of the sort. The Oakland A’s have played .685 baseball for the last three months.
And that quality of play continued this afternoon, as the Athletics beat the Rangers 12-5 in front of a sold-out Oakland Coliseum, to claim the American League West Division title and the right to play at least three playoff games. Here’s how it happened:
On the strength of pitching depth, good defense and adequate offense, Oakland has played better for an extended period of time than any other team this season. When you think back, not just to the first of July, but further to this past off season, when the organization traded its two best pitchers for what were essentially prospects (Major League-ready or not), it’s astonishing how far they’ve come with their best player only to have accumulated a 4.5 WAR season.
The Rangers-A’s game today is essentially a play-out game for the play-in game to the play-offs.
— Rob Iracane (@iracane) October 3, 2012
This afternoon’s starting pitchers will be Ryan “The Demopster” Dempster for the Rangers and A.J. Griffin for the Athletics. It’s been said that Demopster has struggled since coming over from the Chicago Cubs, but what’s been happening could be more realistically be described as the good luck he experienced in the National League Central this season normalizing. Meanwhile, with only 14 Major League starts under his belt, Griffin is largely an unknown quantity that’s experienced success this season with a 90 miles per hour fastball complimented by a curve ball, slider and change up. The veteran Dempster will rely on his four-seamer, two-seamer, splitter and slider to hopefully find success for Texas.
The First Inning
A.J. Griffin looks as though he might be feeling the nerves. He walked two of the first five batters he faced (all to no avail for the Rangers), and an already taxed Oakland bullpen likely isn’t too enthusiastic about the 26 pitches that Griffin threw in the first inning.
In the home half …
This was tweeted just before Brandon Moss cranked a slightly hanging slider into right field for a run-scoring double. The inning ends with the A’s up 1-0. As the mixed metaphor goes, first blood has been struck.
I’d like to say that the first inning is too early for an “uh oh” tweet, but, well …
— Joey Matches (@BBTiA) October 3, 2012
Dempster is already at 29 pitches.
The Third Inning
Adrian Beltre, first-pitch swinging, knocks a single through the left side of the infield that scores Ian Kinsler on third base, and the game is all tied up. Disaster almost struck with the next batter when Nelson Cruz blooped one into shallow right field that Chad Pennington mishandled. He picked up the ball, and fired it to second, where Stephen Drew was able to tag out the oncoming Beltre.
Then, Michael Young, with runners on the corners and two out, was able to hit a double down the right field line to put the Rangers ahead 2-1. Griffin has thrown approximately a million pitches. Not to be outdone Daniel Murphy made it an officially crooked inning with yet another two-out hit, this one clearing the bases, and making the score 4-1.
The next batter, Mike Napoli, gets on base when an infield fly gets lost in the sun and fumbled by catcher George Kottaras.
So, with runners on first and third, Geovany Soto, again first-pitch swinging, brings in Murphy with a single up the middle.
And that’s all she wrote for A.J. Griffin …
He’s replaced by Evan Scribner who induces a Kinsler ground out with one pitch.
Griffin’s final line: 2.2 IP, 7 hits, 2 walks, 0 strike outs and four earned runs. The Rangers lead 5-1.
The Fourth Inning
The Rangers threaten in the top half, getting back-to-back base hits from Beltre and Cruz, before Young lines out to end the inning. It’s as though someone woke up the entire team, and was like, “Hey guys, you have to try again.”
Fortunately, the A’s aren’t ready to give up quite so easily. Josh Reddick hits a double off of another hanging slider. This one scores Brandon Moss to make it 5-2 for the Rangers. Josh Donaldson, the next batter, hits a single that pushed Reddick to third base. Seth Smith takes advantage of yet another slider left up in the zone, bringing in Reddick to make the score 5-3.
Dempster slung more sliders this afternoon than a minimum wage worker at White Castle. He leaves the game with runners on second and third and none out for Derek Holland. The Dutch Oven gets the first two batters he sees out by throwing pitches that are not actually sliders, but Coco Crisp belts a double down the right field line like he’s Michael Young, and clears the bases. We’re all tied up at five.
Then, Yoenis Cespedes hits a pop up into center field that Josh Hamilton drops.
I don’t know if he didn’t see it with his energy drink induced blurry vision or what the problem was, but Hamilton completely missed the most routine of fly balls. Two more runs score before Moss, coming up to the plate again, finally ends the inning with a ground out to Mike Napoli.
Oakland 7 – Texas 5.
The Fifth Inning: A’s 8 – Rangers 5
Derek Norris drives in Josh Donaldson with a single up the middle that barely past a diving Elvis Andrus. That’s a rare brand of pasta. The crowd in Oakland, standing room and all, is going absolutely crazy.
The Sixth Inning: A’s 8 – Rangers 5
With two out and none on, Scribner is pulled from the game in favor of Jerry Blevins who will face Josh Hamilton. The crowd in Oakland gives him a rousing ovation after he pitches three complete innings, only giving up two hits. Blevins proceeds to strike out Hamilton, and the crowd grows even more rambunctious.
In the home half, Derek Holland eventually makes way for the wonderful Koji Uehara, with a runner on first base. Facing Moss, the reliever throws a wild pitch that allows Cespedes to advance to second base. Here is a screen grab of Nolan Ryan via Yankee Megs:
The Seventh Inning: A’s 8 – Rangers 5
With Beltre on first base, Ryan Cook enters the game with none out. It’s his fifth appearance in five days. He gives up a double to Cruz, the first batter he sees. Beltre moves to third. Cook then proceeds to induce a ground out from Young that doesn’t advance the runners on second and third. Then, Cook strikes out Murphy with a whiff on a low fastball, followed by a swinging strikeout to Napoli on a cruel slider.
The A’s now have a 95% win expectancy.
The human element is important to Major League Baseball just so long as its the best possible humans:
MLB thought highly of this Rangers/A’s game. They altered the ump rotation to have vet Gary Cederstrom behind the plate. Supposed to have 1B
— Pedro Gomez (@pedrogomezESPN) October 3, 2012
The Eighth Inning: A’s 12 – Rangers 5
Sean Doolittle replaces the heroic Cook, and he too hasn’t gotten a whole lot of rest this last week. This is his fourth appearance in the last five games. He handles the first two batters he faces with only five pitches, but walks Andrus on five pitches, setting up a dangerous at bat with Hamilton due up. Doolittle challenges him with a 95 miles per hour fastball right over the plate, then threw a breaking pitch for a ball, and then back-to-back swinging strikes on fastballs that Hamilton couldn’t catch up with.
In the A’s half of the inning, Norris leads off against Alexei Ogando with a line drive home run to left field. After a Pennington fly out, Crisp draws a walk and then advances to second base on a botched double play ball hit by Drew that Kinsler couldn’t handle. With runners at first and second, and none out, Ogando walks Cespedes to load the bases for Moss who has already walked today and knocked in a run with a double. Ron Washington wisely decides that this is the end of the line for Ogando.
Robbie Ross comes in for some Ross on Ross action. The Brandon version of the two swings at the first pitch and hits a double into righ center field. The ball was poorly handled in the outfield, and all of the runners score. It’s just been a disastrous day for the Texas Rangers.
Reddick flies out, and Donaldson strikes out. The A’s are three outs away from becoming division champs, a prospect that now carries a 99.9% win expectancy.
The Ninth Inning: Oakland Wins 12-5
Even though it isn’t a save situation, and even though he’s already pitched in the last four games, Grant Balfour comes in to retire the side, as the Oakland A’s complete the least likely story in baseball, winning the American League West Division. Incredible.