Rangers' comeback shut down by A's bullpen as magic number stays at 2

OAKLAND, Calif. -- No matter what happens this week at Coliseum, the Texas Rangers will be in the playoffs.

They secured a third straight postseason appearance, the first in club history, Sunday. Their quest for a third straight American League West title, though, continues.

Oakland scored two in the first and two more in the fifth against Martin Perez, and the Rangers were shut down late by the A's bullpen in a 4-3 loss Monday that kept them from clinching the division.

The Rangers' West lead fell to one game, their magic number held at two, and they fell into a tie with New York for the league's best record.

The Rangers need one win in their final two games to win the West and must finish with a better record than the Yankees to claim the top seed.

The A's, though, locked up a playoff spot and eliminated Los Angeles and Tampa Bay in the process. The five AL teams have been determined, but that's about the only thing that's clear in a muddled postseason picture.

"I never concern myself with who we're playing because we have to play somebody," manager Ron Washington said. "Sometimes when you pick your poison, it becomes poison."

The Rangers could be the No. 1 seed, or they could slide all the way to the No. 5 seed.

About the only thing they do know is that they won't be the No. 3 seed. That will be the Detroit Tigers, who wrapped up the AL Central title Monday night.

And the Rangers could play the Tigers this weekend in the postseason -- or the A's, or Baltimore, or New York.

Los Angeles and Tampa Bay also entered Monday still in the mix for a playoff spot with three games to go, though their faint hopes vanished with Oakland's victory.

That's the beauty of adding a second wild-card team to the postseason picture, though some would argue that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The Rangers didn't seem to care whom they play or when they play so long as they enter the playoffs as the AL West champions for a third straight year.

"Our priority in Oakland is to win a ballgame and win the division," Michael Young said. "We'll deal with whatever comes after that.

"We're at a point in the season where we try to win every time we're out there. We've been down this road before. This is when baseball's really fun for us."

The hope was that the Rangers would clinch in the opener. But Perez struggled to throw strikes in the first inning and balked in the A's second run, but he retired 10 of 11 as the Rangers pulled even on an Elvis Andrus single in the third and a solo homer by Young in the fourth.

Perez, though, yielded back-to-back doubles to start the fifth and was pulled in favor of Scott Feldman.

Coco Crisp scored the fourth Oakland run as he slid home just ahead of Josh Hamilton's throw from center field on a sacrifice fly by pinch hitter Brandon Moss.

Napoli homered to start the seventh, but three A's relievers worked a scoreless inning apiece to make a winner of Jarrod Parker.

Despite the loss, the Rangers expect to win one of their final two games and avoid having to sweat out a wild-card game or the potential travel nightmare that could ensue.

Should they fail to win the West, they could fall to the No. 5 seed and have to travel from Oakland to either Baltimore or New York for a one-game playoff for the American League Division Series. They would then jump on a plane back to Texas to host the first two games of the ALDS against the No. 1 seed.

But the Rangers were planning to worry about the what-ifs later.

"When you get to the playoffs, every team that's there is worthy," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "We've all played each other. We have a pretty good idea what to expect from each team."

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

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