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TEX@OAK: A's put up a six-spot in the fourth inning

OAKLAND -- Alone in first place for the first time all season, the A's looked up on Wednesday, their vision of the division title no longer blurred by the Rangers, but only by champagne.

Not that outsiders ever dreamed the crown to be theirs from the start, but that it finally was, after an inspiring victory in the de facto American League West title game, won in the same fashion that got them there.

Oakland hid in the shadow of the Rangers, just as it did while fielding the lowest of expectations before season's start, mounting its most precious comeback yet in the campaign's final game. The A's overcame an early four-run deficit to lock down a 12-5 victory, sweep the Rangers and take home their first division crown since 2006 and 15th overall. Only the Yankees, on the verge of 18, and Braves (16) have won more.

The A's will play the Tigers in the AL Division Series beginning Saturday.

"It was never 'if' we were going to do this," reliever Sean Doolittle said. "It was 'how' and 'when' we were going to do it."

"I don't think it took 162 games to check the character of this ballclub," clubhouse ringleader Jonny Gomes said. "We were like a train, we got on that track and just kept it going. No east and west, we knew we were just going north."

The A's join the 2006 Twins and 1951 Giants as the only teams whose lone day alone in first place also happened to be the last day of the season. With magic on their side through the first 161 games of a storybook year, why wouldn't it be there for the 162nd?

These underdog A's shine brightest in the face of adversity, so there was no panic displayed when rookie starter A.J. Griffin endured his toughest outing yet, leaving after just 2 2/3 innings with five runs to his name. Rather, like clockwork, his team picked him up, and in doing so robbed the Rangers of securing their third straight division championship.

"We weren't going to put our heads down and run away with our tail between our legs," outfielder Josh Reddick said. "That hasn't been our style all year, so we weren't going to do it on the last day when it really matters."

Staking claim to their seventh victory in games in which they trailed by at least four this year, the resilient A's enjoyed their second celebration in three days, this one even sweeter than the one they hosted Monday, when they secured at least a spot in the AL Wild Card game that is now only of Texas' concern. This after Oakland trailed the Rangers by as many as 13 games, this after posting a 74-88 record just last year.

Moreover, the A's were five games back in the AL West with nine to play on Sept. 24, making them the first team in history to win a division or pennant when trailing by that many contests with fewer than 10 on the schedule.

"It's been a pretty special year," A's general manager Billy Beane said. "We wanted to create a team that had a chance to get better from the first day forward. That was the expectation set. We just didn't know where we were going to start from, and in fairness, maybe we were a little further ahead when we started than maybe anyone anticipated."

The clock that Beane reset in the offseason, an unpopular one that resulted in the departure of three All-Star pitchers, sped up on him, as the exchange goods acquired in those trades performed in a way that surprised even the biggest of optimists.

Several other pieces have intermittently been inserted into a puzzle of winners, who joined together on Wednesday for a heroic team effort that has the A's geared for a best-of-five AL Division Series against an opponent to be determined.

Following Griffin's departure, reliever Evan Scribner, an under-the-radar waiver pickup last winter, fired three shutout innings. The right-hander proved to be the difference-maker in this one, allowing the A's plenty of time to score the next 11 runs after being down, 5-1, after three. That included six in an epic fourth frame -- the last two of which came courtesy of Josh Hamilton, who dropped a shallow fly ball with two outs to allow the go-ahead runs to cross home plate.

Rookie catcher Derek Norris' RBI hit in the fifth extended Oakland's lead to three, his solo shot in the eighth pushed it to four, and the A's bullpen took care of the rest, getting three pivotal outs from righty Ryan Cook in the seventh, despite a challenging setup of runners aboard second and third with no outs in his fifth straight day of work.

Doolittle followed with a scoreless eighth, and the gritty Grant Balfour -- also pitching for the fifth straight day -- brought a deafening home crowd of 36,067 to its feet for three final outs of an AL West showdown that capped off an exhilarating regular season in Oakland.

"I wanted to be in that game, I didn't care if we were up by 10 or up by one," Balfour said. "I wanted the ball. I went to bed last night and dreamed about being on that mound."

"He earned every bit of it," Scribner said. "He's a monster, he's a robot -- just a machine, really."

So, too, are the A's, and now only they have control of their expiration date.

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