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Athletics dominate Rangers, capture AL West crown

The Texas Rangers put one of their worst efforts of the season together on Wednesday, as the Oakland A's wrestled the AL West crown away.

Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

There is no other way to put it.

The Texas Rangers saved their worst for last in the waning days of the 2012 regular season, and now paid the price for it. Texas had to watch Oakland celebrate not once but twice in a span of three days, as the Athletics clinched a playoff berth on Monday, and then wrestled away the AL West crown on Wednesday.

Game 162 started out looking like the A's were going to have their way with the Rangers. Ryan Dempster retired Coco Crisp to start the bottom of the first, but then allowed two consecutive singles by Stephen Drew and Yoenis Cespedes, before Brandon Moss laced a double to deep right field.

Right away, it was advantage Oakland 1-0.

Dempster, though, wiggled out of trouble, and didn't allow either Cespedes or Moss to score.

Texas' offense then came through in the third inning, scoring five runs and chasing Oakland starter A.J. Griffin in the process. Certainly, a 5-1 lead with the division on the line would be good enough for the Rangers to handle.

Wrong.

Dempster disintegrated in the fourth inning, facing four batters, walking one and giving up three hits before Ron Washington pulled the plug and brought in Derek Holland, with Texas' lead already being cut down to 5-3.

Holland inherited the tying runners on base, and they both scored on a Crisp double, tying the game at 5-5. After a walk to Drew, it looked like the Rangers were out of the inning, when Holland induced a weak fly ball to shallow center off the bat of Cespedes.

Then, it happened. Josh Hamilton watched the ball clank off the heel of his glove and fall to the ground, allowing the A's to take a 7-5 lead. The much-maligned Hamilton provided perhaps the most fitting microcosm of the last two weeks with the play. Like Hamilton, the Rangers are immensely talented, and, like Hamilton on Wednesday afternoon, you can't help but think that the Rangers wasted their talent in September 2012.

The rest of the game was not competitive. The A's went on and tacked on and tacked on another five runs, winning 12-5, and scoring a staggering 11 unanswered runs in a defacto division title game.

The Rangers looked lost. They looked tired. They looked like they were mentally checked out the second Hamilton's error occurred.

Luckily for the Rangers, they have a second life, and earned a playoff berth regardless of a dismal end of the regular season.

The '12 Rangers evoke comparisons to the St. Louis Cardinals. No, not the '11 Cardinals that shocked the world, but the '06 Cardinals (who also shocked the world), that backed into the playoffs, won the NL Central with 83 wins, and later went on to upset the Padres, Mets and Tigers en route to the club's 10th World Series championship.

Sure, it's easy to look at that Cardinals team and scoff at the comparison. They won 83 games. The Rangers won 93 in 2012. Chances are, the 2012 Rangers would beat the 2006 Cardinals -- but that doesn't mean they're dissimilar. The '06 Cardinals limped into the playoffs, dealt with injuries all year long, and got healthy and hot at the right time. There's no reason that the Rangers can't do the same.

Momentum is only as good as tomorrow's starting pitcher. Yu Darvish is tomorrow's starting pitcher in a do-or-die game. Darvish is better than whoever Baltimore decides to start. The Rangers are better than the Orioles. Ron Washington's club just has to remember it.

For the Rangers and Rangers fans, the loss stings. But there's still playoff baseball to be played, and the Rangers have one of the best pitchers on the planet starting on Friday night in Arlington.

All that matters is getting into the playoffs. It's now up to the Rangers to win in October like they're capable of. A win on Friday night would make all of the putrid play of Game 162 disappear forever. It would be a footnote in Rangers history. A loss would highlight it.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.