OAKLAND, Calif. — The last thing the Texas Rangers wanted to face this week was a winner-take-all game against the hottest team in baseball the past 100 games.
But that’s what will happen this afternoon on the final day of the regular season, one game for the American League West title against the Oakland A’s. The Rangers missed out on a second chance to win the division for a third straight year when Travis Blackley and three relievers held the Rangers to five hits in a 3-1 victory Tuesday night.
Veteran right-hander Ryan Dempster, acquired at the trade deadline to plug a hole in the rotation, will start for the Rangers against rookie right-hander A.J. Griffin.
The Rangers have been in first place since their fourth game of the season April 9. That could end today in game No. 162.
“No one said it was going to be easy,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “We set out to play 162 games. Tomorrow is No. 162, winner take all.”
If the Rangers win, they will likely be the No. 2 seed and play at Detroit on Saturday in the American League Division Series.
If they lose, they will be one of the two wild-card teams and have a one-game playoff Friday with either Baltimore or New York, site to be determined, to advance to the ALDS against the No. 1 seed.
“We all know what's at stake,” veteran Michael Young said.
Oakland scored two times in the fifth inning against Matt Harrison, and Jonny Gomes knocked a solo homer in the sixth as the A’s won their fifth straight game.
The Rangers, meanwhile, lost for the fourth time in their past five games as they managed only one run and three hits against Blackley in six innings after scoring five in one inning against him last week.
Josh Hamilton delivered his 128th RBI of the season in the third inning with a two-out double to right-center to plate Ian Kinsler, who scored easily after A’s second baseman Adam Rosales dropped the relay throw.
Harrison had retired 10 straight before Josh Donaldson opened the fifth with a single and went to third as Brandon Moss followed with double. Derek Norris was next, and he rifled a single to right field that Nelson Cruz bobbled to allow both runners to score.
After one of three double plays turned by the A’s snuffed out a potential Rangers rally in the sixth, Gomes connected to left field on a 1-2 pitch. Harrison (18-11) allowed three runs in six hits in six innings. Even with their best starter on the mound, the Rangers couldn’t cool off the A’s and now face another crucial game to win a third straight West title.
The Rangers will lean on the experiences they’ve gathered in big games the past two seasons.
“We’ve played in these pressure situations the last couple years,” Harrison said. “We have that on our side. We know what it takes to win that one game, so I think we’ll be alright.”
Said Young: “We played in games before where it’s all about the win or you go home. That’s not the case tomorrow, but we've played in those games before and they're a lot of fun. We’re looking forward to it.”
So do the A’s, who on Monday clinched their first playoff berth since 2006. They are 67-33 in their past 100 games, and haven’t lost since Thursday at Rangers Ballpark.
Closer Grant Balfour, who worked in a fourth straight game Tuesday, said that the A’s will win today.
“I honestly believe that we're going to win tomorrow,” he said. “Nothing’s a guarantee, but it’s about as good as one.”
All the Rangers would say is that they will try to put together a complete game, from Dempster’s mound work to the offense not wasting any chances.
It’s come down to the situation the Rangers wanted to avoid when they left home Sunday night needing only one win in their final three games. They one have one more chance.
“It comes down to 162,” Hamilton said. “It’s a long schedule, and it’s amazing it can come down to one game.
“Either way it turns out, both teams are in the playoffs. We’re excited about that, but ultimately you want a division championship. We’ll come in tomorrow and get after it.”
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST