The Texas Rangers looked to have the AL West division title sewn up all summer long. Texas took possession of first place in the division on April 9th and kept it until last night. The Oakland A’s tied Texas for first place last night and earlier this evening defeated the Rangers 12-5 to claim the AL West crown. The A’s held the divisional lead for only one day–the final day of the season. Quipped A’s outfielder Josh Reddick “It’s the only day that matters.”
Oakland’s late season surge was not only improbable but downright historic. On June 30, they trailed Texas by 13 games. Before tonight only 4 teams in Major League Baseball history have overcome a deficit of 13 or more games to win their division (1914 Boston Braves, 1951 New York Giants, 1978 New York Yankees and the 1995 Seattle Mariners). Oakland reliever Sean Dolittle observed: “It’s crazy. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, right?”.
With the New York Yankees beating the Boston Red Sox to claim the AL East, the A’s will enter the playoffs as the #2 seed in the American League. They’ll travel to Detroit to face the Tigers in a best of 5 series starting on October 6 and 7 before returning to Oakland for games on October 9, 10 and 11 (if necessary).
Oakland is an unlikely team to overcome such a massive deficit. They not only have one of the lowest payrolls in the American League but also are among baseball’s youngest teams–they used a league high 19 rookies at various points this season. Rookie catcher Derek Norris suggests that his team’s youth and inexperience has an upside:
“I just think we’re too young and dumb to feel much pressure. We just play baseball, you know?”
Even tonight’s win by Oakland provided a dramatic comeback. The Rangers struck for five runs in the top of the 5th to open up a 5-1 lead. Oakland would respond with 6 runs in the bottom of the 6th to go up 7-5 and they never looked back as they kept the pressure on to produce the eventual 12-5 rout.
The Oakland franchise has a very proud baseball tradition and this year’s victory marks their 15th divisional championship. Only two teams in the Majors have won more divisional titles–the New York Yankees now have 18 divisional titles and the Atlanta Braves 16.