Rangers yield to determined A's

OAKLAND, Calif. -- How did this happen to the Texas Rangers?

How did a club coming off two consecutive World Series and in command of the AL West for the entire season watch it slip away on the final day?

In fairness, as the Rangers lost grasp on the title, the Oakland A's were there to snatch it, never giving up even when it didn't appear they would have a shot. And they crushed the Rangers on Wednesday, breaking a 5-5 tie on an inexplicable Josh Hamilton error and then never looking back, capturing the division with a 12-5 victory.

"I'm disappointed and sad," manager Ron Washington said. "You play all year to try to win the division and then you don't get it done, especially when you thought you were on your way to do just that and the tables turned. I'm disappointed, but we've still got an opportunity. We put our backs against the wall by having to play one game, but we're capable of winning that one game. Once we get in, you never know what may happen."

The Rangers' season shouldn't come down to Friday's elimination game in the AL wild card. This was Texas' division all year. The Rangers cruised through April, nearly burying the Los Angeles Angels in the process. The A's were 13 back in June and an afterthought.

But they just kept coming. And the Rangers struggled to find consistency in the second half of the season, unable to put the division away.

Still, they were in command, just as they have been for the better part of three seasons now. They led the AL West for 178 days. According to Elias Sports Bureau, no team in baseball history has led its division that long and not come out with a title -- until now.

They led by four games with six to play. And they needed just one win in this three-game series to clinch. Instead, they lost five of those six games while the A's won six straight to earn an unlikely title.

This wasn't how they planned to end the regular season. It was supposed to be the Rangers who ran to the mound and mobbed each other, not a green-and-gold glob that touched off another huge celebration for the amazing A's.

The visiting clubhouse in Oakland was supposed to be covered in plastic, absorbing a second Rangers celebration in three years. But no champagne flowed there Wednesday. There were no water and ginger ale showers.

After all, you don't throw a party when you're the two-time defending AL champions and you get drubbed in the division-deciding game.

But unlike the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves of 2011, two teams that collapsed last year and weren't around for the postseason, the Rangers still have life.

They will host a one-game, winner-take-all contest Friday against the Baltimore Orioles. They have to forget about a disappointing week and focus on winning the only game that matters now.

"We have to shake it off," outfielder David Murphy said. "It's not an easy one to shake off, but we don't have the luxury of hanging our heads or feeling sorry for ourselves. We've put ourselves in a position where we're basically going straight to a Game 7 and it's a must-win."

The Rangers are in that game because they're playing less than stellar baseball at the wrong time. They've lost nine of their last 13 games and they go into the postseason without any momentum.

"One game can change that," said Washington, who did not talk to his club after Wednesday's game but said he'd address his players once they knew whom they were playing. "Doing things right can change all of that."

The club hasn't done enough things right lately. The Rangers aren't getting enough big hits with runners in scoring position. Parts of the starting rotation haven't pitched consistently enough. They've made costly errors and they haven't done the little things needed to put together a winning streak.

"We didn't take advantage of all the opportunities presented to us," Washington said. "They [the A's] did."

Washington's focus now is to get his team to forget about how it has limped into the playoffs and to concentrate on winning Friday. It helps that Yu Darvish, this club's best pitcher since mid-August, will be on the mound.

"I'm ready," Darvish said through an interpreter. "If I wasn't, I wouldn't be in there."
Texas gets a day off Thursday before it begins what is now a longer road back to the World Series than it had envisioned.

"The one thing we have learned about postseason play is that momentum shifts all the time," Michael Young said. "It can shift pitch to pitch and hit to hit. We can get that thing going right back for us in no time."

They'll have to if they want to keep their American League crown.