OAKLAND, Calif. -- As Josh Hamilton scooted in from his post in center field to catch a pop fly and put an end to an Oakland fourth-inning rally, the Texas Rangers were breathing a sigh of relief.
They would have blown a four-run lead in their quest for a third straight division title, but they would be in a tied game with five more chances to hit against a tired Athletics bullpen.
But Hamilton never made the catch as the ball deflected off the top of his glove, and the Rangers never breathed again.
Hamilton's error allowed the two go-ahead runs to score in a six-run fourth inning for the A's, who pulled away late for a 12-5 victory that ended the Rangers' two-year reign atop the West and pushed them into a do-or-die wild-card game.
The Rangers became the first team in major-league history to blow a five-game division lead with nine to play. All they had to do was win one of the three games this week at Oakland Coliseum.
But it didn't happen, and Hamilton's gaffe will be the symbol of their fall from the top of the division they had led from Game 4 until the final out of Game 162.
"When you get there you need to break down soft so the ball isn't moving under you. I didn't do that. I just missed it," Hamilton said.
"I didn't break down, so I didn't read it and missed it and cost us two runs. It happened. I wish I could take it back, but I can't."
The Rangers will play host to Baltimore at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Rangers Ballpark, with Yu Darvish on the mound to stave off elimination from the postseason.
A victory will move the Rangers into the AL Division Series against New York, which clinched the No. 1 seed. That series would begin Sunday in Arlington, but the Rangers have a win-or-go-home game to play first.
And they have to put the disappointment of failing to win the division behind them.
"We'll be ready to go," veteran Michael Young said. "We don't have a choice. It's a big game. You're not going to sit there and lick your wounds going into Friday. You move on and get ready to play.
"This isn't the way we drew it up, but at the same time we can still make our run starting Friday."
The A's, meanwhile, will head to Detroit as the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and as the AL West champions after trailing by 13 games June 30.
They became only the fifth team in history to rally from that deficit by erasing a 5-1 lead against Ryan Dempster and Derek Holland.
The A's scored a run in the first, but the Rangers countered with five in the third.
Young, David Murphy and Geovany Soto had two-out RBI hits against A.J. Griffin, who lasted only 2 2/3 innings. Adrian Beltre drove in the first run with a single to left.
The Rangers missed out on a chance to add to the lead in the fourth, as Nelson Cruz banged a double off the left-field wall to put runners at second and third for Young.
Young sent a liner toward right field, but A's first baseman Brandon Moss snared it to end the inning.
Moss then walked to start the fourth on four pitches from Dempster, who had retired eight straight. He wouldn't get another out as the next three A's collected hits to make it 5-3.
"Oh, yeah, you're winning the game 5-1, and you can't do that," Dempster said.
Holland entered to get two quick outs, but Crisp doubled down the right-field line to tie the game.
Stephen Drew followed with a walk ahead of the Yoenis Cespedes pop-up that Hamilton charged but failed to catch.
The Rangers had only two more hits, but Oakland added five more runs to take away any thoughts of the Rangers winning a third straight West crown.
"It's disappointing because you play all year to win the division," manager Ron Washington said. "There were some things we didn't do very well [the final two weeks], and it cost us. We accept that. We don't make excuses.
"We've put ourselves up against a wall having to play one game, but if you win that one game, once you get in anything can happen."
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760