Travis Blackley allowed one run over six innings in a strong bounce-back performance that helped the A’s move into a first-place tie in the AL West with Texas and set up a one-game showdown for the division title with a 3-1 victory over the Rangers on Tuesday night.
A night after holding a raucous celebration after clinching their first playoff berth since 2006, the A’s erased the last piece of what had been a 13-game deficit in the division race on June 30 to take a share of first place for the first time since March 29.
Blackley (6-4) gave up three hits and struck out five a week after the Rangers knocked him out with a five-run first inning in the shortest start of his career. He allowed only an RBI double to Josh Hamilton in what was the latest surprising performance in an improbable season for the low-budget A’s.
Derek Norris gave Oakland the lead in the fifth with an RBI single that scored a second run when right fielder Nelson Cruz bobbled the ball in right field for an error. Jonny Gomes added a solo homer in the sixth and the bullpen did the rest in Oakland’s fifth straight win.
Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook each pitched a scoreless inning and Grant Balfour worked a perfect ninth for his 24th save in 26 chances. Balfour has three saves and a win in the last four days.
The A’s will try to cap the comeback today in game No. 162 when A.J. Griffin (7-1) takes the mound against Ryan Dempster (7-3). Only four teams have won a division or pennant after trailing by at least 13 games.
The loser will go the postseason as one of the two AL wild-card teams, needing to win a one-game playoff with Baltimore or the New York Yankees on Friday to advance to the division series.
The Rangers, who had held sole possession of the AL West lead since April 9, never expected to be in that position. But now they need one more victory to win their third straight division title.
“It’s not easy to run to a title three times,” manager Ron Washington said before the game. “It’s not easy at all. It’s not easy because so much can go wrong. What’s been wrong for us we’ve been able to weather it.”
They had been counting on Matt Harrison (18-11) to wrap up the title but now need to survive one more storm Wednesday to do it.
Harrison had been cruising along, retiring 10 straight batters before running into trouble in the fifth. Josh Donaldson led off with a single and advanced to third on Brandon Moss’ double. Norris then lined a single to right field that scored Donaldson with the tying run. Third base coach Mike Gallego initially held up Moss, but Cruz bobbled the ball for an error that allowed Moss to score.
Oakland tacked on an insurance run when Gomes hit his 18th homer with two outs in the sixth to make it 3-1, delighting the crowd of 30,660.
NOTES: The A’s estimated a walk-up crowd of 12,000. ... The gametime temperature of 87 degrees was the warmest of the year in Oakland. ... The other teams to come back from at least 13 games down were the 1914 Boston Braves, the 1951 New York Giants, the ‘78 Yankees and the ‘95 Seattle Mariners. ... Oakland reliever Pat Neshek will miss the final two games for the birth of his first child. ... Gomes won the Jim “Catfish” Hunter Award, which honors an A’s player whose play on the field and conduct in the clubhouse best exemplifies the courageous, competitive and inspirational spirit demonstrated by the late Hall of Fame pitcher. ... Texas RHP Mike Adams rejoined the team after receiving a cortisone injection in his strained neck Monday. It is unknown when he will be able to pitch again.