The final game of the season last year was the greatest day of baseball for fans throughout baseball.
Tomorrow has a chance to be the greatest day of baseball for A's fans as they are now tied for first in the AL West.
Travis Blackley was looking to rebound after a couple of terrible starts in New York and Arlington. Blackley did more than rebound as he would ultimately win his final start of the regular season by allowing just one earned run on on 3 hits with a 5:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 6 innings. Blackley limited the Rangers from getting a big inning with two double plays throughout his 6 innings of work.
On the other hand, with a lot of pressure resting on him, Matt Harrison still put up a quality start in a losing effort for the Rangers. At one point he had retired ten batters in a row and it seemed like he was going to mow down the A's. Harrison was tabbed with the loss as the Rangers offense just couldn't amount to many run-scoring opportunities, let alone execute when there were runners in scoring position.
Travis Blackley made quick work of the Rangers 1-2-3 hitters, Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, and Josh Hamilton, retiring the first two on a pop out and a ground out. Hamilton would work the count full, but Blackley would get him to flail at an 82 mph change up away to end the inning. It was electrifying watching Blackley and the A's run to the dugout with the crowd roarin' like it's 1989!
Coco Crisp had a tough time at the plate tonight as he led off the inning with a soft ground out to Elvis Andrus on the first pitch. Stephen Drew then singled on a line drive to Nelson Cruz, Yoenis Cespedes popped out, and Jonny Gomes walked to put runners at first and second with 2 outs. Looking to strike first, Josh Reddick was unsuccesfful as he grounded out to end the inning.
To lead off the top of the 2nd, Beltre hit a double off the left-center field wall and stayed at second after Blackley induced a ground out from Nelson Cruz. Michael Young then hit a ball that hit off the ground, then deflected off the glove of Travis Blackley to put runners on first and second with only one out. Blackley would get out of the inning with no damage done as Mike Napoli lined out to third and a called third strike on Geovany Soto would end the top of the 2nd.
Harrison would shut down the A's in the bottom of the 3rd, inducing a ground out from Josh Donaldson and then efficiently striking out Brandon Moss and Derek Norris.
To lead off the top of the 4th for the Rangers, Craig Gentry flew out to center and was followed by Ian Kinsler, who hit a ball to foul territory in right, but the ball was dropped as Josh Reddick could not hold on to it. Kinsler would draw a walk, but Blackley then struck out Elvis Andrus swinging for the second out. On an 0-2 count to Josh Hamilton, Blackley hung a curveball right down the heart of the plate that Hamilton would drive off the right-center field wall to give the Rangers the 1 - 0 lead. Reddick fielded the ball off the wall right away and threw to cut-off man Adam Rosales, who then threw to Stephen Drew, looking to nab Ian Kinsler at the plate. Unfortunately, Drew could not hold on to the ball to make the throw. With Hamilton at second base and 2 outs, Blackley got the third out as Adrian Beltre grounded out to first to end the threat.
Neither team would score from the bottom of the 3rd until the bottom of the 5th as both Harrison and Blackley were both on their game. The A's finally got a rally going in the bottom of the 5th, on single from Josh Donaldson and a double by Brandon Moss put runners at second and third with no outs. With a third consecutive hit, Derek Norris plated both runners with a single to right field that was bobbled by Nelson Cruz, giving the A's the 2 - 1 lead. But the A's wouldn't score again that inning, with a double play off the bat of Adam Rosales and a pop out from Coco Crisp ending the inning.
Blackley would continued pitching well, walking Elvis Andrus to lead off the inning, but stopping the threat by inducing a double play from Josh Hamilton and getting a fly out from Adrian Beltre. The A's would tack on the last run of the game on a solo shot from Jonny Gomes that cleared the left field scoreboard. They wouldn't score again, but the home run completely changed the complexity of the game, giving the A's the push they needed to finish off the last three innings of the game with the lights-out bullpen.
Doolittle would replace Blackley for the top of the 7th, getting a groudn out from Nelson Cruz, but Michale Young would hit a hard ground ball to center field that was stopped on a nice play by Stephen Drew, but the throw was not in time to get the out. With Young at first, the Rangers would ground into their third and final double play of the ngiht, as Mike Napoli hit into a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning.
Alexi Ogando replaced Matt Harrison for the bottom of the 7th. Ogando got Donaldson to ground out and struck out Brandon Moss for the first two outs. Derek Norris then hit a ground ball to Elvis Andrus, but would reach second base on a throwing error. Cliff Pennington, pinch-hitting for Adam Rosales, then struck out on 3 pitches for the third out.
Ryan Cook was put in to pitch for the fourth day in a row, so many were skeptical at this decision by Melvin. Of course, Melvin is awesome and Cook would only give up a lead off single to Mitch Moreland, (who was pinch hitting for Geovany Soto) before getting three ground ball outs from David Murphy (pinch-hitting for center fielder Craig Gentry), Ian Kinsler, and Elvis Andrus.
The Rangers would make some defensive shifts for the bottom of the 8th, switching Hamilton from left field to center, Napoli from first base to catcher, and replace Ogando with Michael Kirkman. Coco Crisp would hit a ball to left field that had home-run distance, but after reviewing the play, the umpires made the correct call and ruled it foul. Crisp would work a 9 pitch at bat, but would be called out on a questionable slider inside. Stephen Drew then grounded out, and Roy Oswalt was put in to relieve Michael Kirkman, who then struck out Yoenis Cespedes swinging on five pitches.
Grant Balfour, also pitching for the fourth day in a row, was looking to secure Oakland's 93rd win and his 24th save of the season. Balfour pumped two straight fastballs for strikes at 94 mph before getting a ground out on a 89 mph slider to Josh Hamilton. Facing clean up hitter Adrian Beltre, Balfour kept attacking with a fastball and slider combo, lighting up the crowd with each strike thrown. On the fourth pitch to Beltre, Balfour blew a 96 mph fastball right by a swinging Beltre for the second out. One more out to tie for first place in the American League West. Balfour made Nelson Cruz look silly, as he struck him out on three pitches, the last of course swinging, because this 2012 A's team knows how to entertain.
We are not done yet. Winner takes all tomorrow. A.J Griffin takes the mound against Ryan Dempster in what will easily be the best game of the year for A's fans. A packed stadium is expected, so whether you are at the game, or listening at home, be prepared to lose your voice for the rest of the week as you cheer on your 2012 Oakland Athletics!