OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)—Once they got their chance to go head-to-head, the Anaheim Angels showed Oakland which team was best in the AL West.
After chasing the Athletics all September, the Angels scored three times in the eighth inning to beat Oakland 5-4 Saturday and clinch their first division title in 18 years.
The teams were tied for first place when the series began Friday, and many expected the race to come down to the last day of the season. But Anaheim ended the suspense with two consecutive wins.
“I knew our guys weren’t going to melt,” manager Mike Scioscia said moments before getting soaked in champagne by several players. “We have a lot of very, very talented players.”
That’s for sure.
Vladimir Guerrero homered for the Angels, who trailed Oakland by one game last Monday. But after beating the A’s 10-0 Friday night, Anaheim won again to wrap it up.
The Angels have won seven of eight overall and are 20-7 in their last 27 road games.
“What we did to be at this point, nobody expected it,” Anaheim leadoff hitter Chone Figgins said. “It’s motivation. We were down four or five games, but we still had to play in our division. When you still have to play in your division and it’s coming down to the home stretch, you get a little more energy.”
It’s still not clear who the Angels will face in the first round of the playoffs—it will either be the New York Yankees or Boston.
The A’s had won the division in three of the past four years, and made the playoffs in all of those seasons. They had lost in the first round each time.
Oakland’s Eric Byrnes grabbed his helmet in disbelief and frustration when he flied out to left to end it, and a celebration ensued on the mound by the Angels. It quickly moved into the clubhouse, where champagne and beer began flowing freely.
The A’s dropped to 12-18 in September—a shocking development for a team that’s been the best in baseball in the final month the past four years.
After seven strong innings by Zito, the lefty told manager Ken Macha he couldn’t go out for the eighth because his legs had become stiff the past two innings and it was affecting his pitching.
“I asked (pitching coach) Curt (Young) if he was confident in the bullpen right now and he said yes,” Zito said. “In retrospect, it was the wrong call. But my legs were tightening up for the last couple of innings. I have to trust myself. I’m going to pitch as long as I can.”
Erstad lined a two-run double off the right-field wall against Rincon, who entered after Mecir allowed singles to Bengie Molina and Figgins.
Macha then turned to Dotel, the closer who has been fighting elbow tendinitis. Anderson, playing with knee tendinitis, got his second hit of the game.
The A’s held a team meeting before the game, and Eric Chavez hit a two-run double in the third to give them the lead. Oakland did not do much at the plate, managing only 19 hits in its last four games.
“It’s weird,” Chavez said. “It’s very apparent to the rest of baseball what our problems are. If you ask me, we should have run away with this division this year.”
Guerrero hit a tying, two-run homer off Zito with two outs in the sixth. It was Guerrero’s 39th homer and career-high 206th hit. He’s being touted as the league MVP.
“I would welcome the prize with a lot of love,” he said through a translator. “But right now I can’t think about anything but the other 25 guys here.”
The A’s took back the lead in the bottom half. Jermaine Dye hit a leadoff single, then Damian Miller doubled two batters later to center and the ball got past a diving Anderson when he tried to backhand the ball and rolled to the wall.
Dye scored with a headfirst dive and touched the plate with his left hand— then jumped up and threw his arm in the air in excitement. Miller’s hit chased Angels starter Kelvim Escobar, who pitched on three days’ rest for the fourth time in his career.
Zito was winless in his last four starts and six of seven. Oakland has lost six of eight and nine of 12.
“This is a sour note for us,” center fielder Mark Kotsay said. “We just gave it to them. Zito did an unbelievable job. He gave us the lead, and that’s all you can ask. I have no answers for what happened.”
Angels fans lined the front-row seats behind the team’s dugout and down the first-base line and began chanting “Let’s Go, Angels!” about an hour before first pitch.
Miller returned to the lineup after missing three straight games with a bruised left thumb. DH Erubiel Durazo, who sat out two games with a sore wrist, also was back in the lineup and finished 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. … The A’s committed errors in the second and third innings.