Athletics 12, Mariners 3
After three days of waiting, the Oakland Athletics finally popped the bubbly, beer and any other alcoholic beverage they could find as newly crowned AL West champions.
Nick Swisher and Milton Bradley each homered in a four-run second to back Rich Harden’s five shutout innings, helping the A’s clinch the division title Tuesday night with a 12-3 victory over the Seattle Mariners.
The win, combined with the Los Angeles Angels’ 5-2 loss against Texas, gave Oakland its first AL West crown since 2003 and the 14th in franchise history, setting off a raucous celebration that lived up to the A’s frat house reputation.
Kendall and Mark Kotsay were the main targets as the team’s two most veteran players never to have made the playoffs before. After a combined 21 big league seasons, the duo will make their first postseason appearance hoping to advance the A’s to the AL championship series following four first-round exits from 2000-03.
“I was as anxious as anybody in here wanting to get it done, wanting to get this accomplishment,” Kotsay said.
The small-budget A’s are back in the playoffs after a two-year absence thanks to a sensational second half—a hallmark for this club in recent years.
Oakland could have wrapped up the championship at home last weekend, but it dropped two straight games to the Angels. Los Angeles then beat Texas on Monday night, while the A’s blew a 9-3 lead and lost to Seattle, keeping their magic number at two for the third day in a row.
But Oakland jumped out to a big lead Tuesday and celebrated after the final out. Kotsay, who sat out with a slight groin injury, looked just fine as he sprinted to Kendall, setting off the wild on-field party that carried into the clubhouse.
And no one was immune from the champagne and beer flying from every direction—coaches, clubhouse assistants and even players’ wives who ventured in to join the party.
“It’s pretty good,” manager Ken Macha said as he sipped a beer. “I’m happy for all of the players. I’m happy for all the coaches. … It’s a special thing.”
Harden (4-0) was staked to an early 5-0 lead. Making just his second start since June because he was on the disabled list with an elbow injury, the right-hander showed he’s ready for the postseason, allowing only two singles and striking out five in a performance that appeared dominant, even though Harden didn’t think so.
“I didn’t really have my best stuff,” he said. “It was one of these nights where you just had to fight through it.”
Harden hit 97 mph on the stadium radar gun in the first inning and struck out three consecutive batters in the third and fourth. Macha wanted Harden limited to 75 pitches, and he finished the fifth inning, getting Willie Bloomquist to line out to center field on his 76th pitch.
Harden’s only jam came in the third, when Seattle loaded the bases with two outs. Harden went to a full count on AL player of the week Raul Ibanez and threw a 96 mph fastball that Ibanez waved at.
Meanwhile, Oakland’s tepid offense—next to last in the AL in batting average at .259 entering Tuesday—battered Seattle starter Jake Woods.
Thomas, who has 38 homers after the A’s got him at a bargain with a one-year, $500,000 incentive-laden contract, lined an RBI single in the first. Swisher, who bounced around every corner of the clubhouse drenching everyone, led off the second with his 34th homer.
Bradley capped the inning with a three-run shot. He strutted and watched his 14th homer carry into the sparse crowd, then sprinted around the bases and briefly danced in the dugout.
Woods (6-4) lasted just four innings, giving up 11 hits and six runs. Jay Payton singled three times off Woods and scored after doubling to lead off the seventh as the A’s added four more runs.
“It hurts to see them celebrate on your field,” Ibanez said. “I’m tired of watching the postseason on TV.”
Only Eric Chavez and Barry Zito remain from the 2000 A’s team that reached the playoffs to begin a stretch of four straight postseason trips, and Chavez asked to stay on the field for the final out Tuesday night.
This year, they won the AL West despite injuries to a number of regulars, including Harden, who only returned last week to make his first start since June 4.
Bradley also spent two stints on the disabled list and shortstop Bobby Crosby is still out with a back injury. Kotsay has been dealing with back spasms and added the strained groin to the list of ailments on Monday night. Chavez played through forearm problems and other nagging injuries.
Zito stayed put at the trade deadline despite rumors all season he might be swapped, a sign general manager Billy Beane built this team to win now.
“This is a team. We’ve had injuries all year long and people in baseball were wondering how this team was going to win,” Thomas said. “We have a group of guys that care about each other and we stuck together all year long and found a way to win.”
Seattle OF Ichiro Suzuki didn’t play, snapping a streak of 396 consecutive games played. He was hit in the shoulder with a pickoff attempt in the 10th inning Monday night and was given Tuesday off. … Seattle C Kenji Johjima didn’t play after having back spasms late in Monday night’s win. … Since June 15, the A’s have spent every day but one in first place.