A's can't delay inevitable in Rangers' clinch

A's can't delay inevitable in Rangers' clinch

OAKLAND -- Saturday's roller-coaster series of events fittingly compared to the ups and downs endured by an injury-ridden but youthfully talented A's team this season.

The A's bit first against the Rangers on a day when Texas was looking to officially eliminate Oakland from a shot at the American League West title. Looking to clinch, the Rangers proceeded to go ahead by two in the middle innings only to watch Oakland jump back in the saddle again by way of a two-run homer off the bat of Cliff Pennington in the seventh.

But Texas struck again an inning later, and the A's offered no answer this time.

Less than an hour later, the Rangers were clinging to champagne bottles, celebrating a 4-3 victory and their first division title since 1999. The A's, meanwhile, were silenced in their own clubhouse, soaking up a loss that officially put to rest any chances of a postseason appearance.

At one end sat young lefty Gio Gonzalez, who barely made the club's Opening Day roster five months ago, but has since transformed into one of the rotation's leading workhorses. Gonzalez was on the mound at the start of Saturday's affair, which saw him bulldog his way through six innings before handing a 2-1 deficit to the bullpen.

Next to the hurler stood Pennington. The A's shortstop shifted the momentum with a game-changing homer, but by day's end, it minimally compared to Jorge Cantu's go-ahead long ball an inning later off righty Michael Wuertz.

"At the time, down two, hit a home run, tying it up's nice," Pennington said. "But in the end, it wasn't enough."

The loss put the A's back at the .500 mark, where they've stood an ongoing franchise-record 32 times this season, including 21 times since the All-Star break.

It was one that featured an entertaining pitchers' duel for the first five innings, all of which featured Texas lefty Derek Holland on the mound. The Rangers' southpaw allowed just one run, an RBI fielder's choice in the bottom of the first inning from Kurt Suzuki.

Gonzalez, meanwhile, coughed up his first run in the third inning, when Michael Young led off the frame with a solo shot to left field. Three innings later, the A's lefty offered up a leadoff double to Ian Kinsler, who promptly scored on a single from Cantu, who at the time not only earned his first of two RBIs on the day but also his first since joining the Rangers.

Gonzalez exited after six frames, having given up two runs on seven hits while walking three and striking out two.

"Today was one of those games where you just want to keep your team in the game," he said. "I tried to do my best to go deep in the game, and I wanted to make sure it wasn't an easy battle for them."

Texas' one-run lead quickly turned into a two-run advantage, though, when Henry Rodriguez surrendered a run in the seventh. Pennington's two-run blast -- his fifth of the season -- in the bottom half of the frame momentarily had the A's back in it, but Cantu's shot off Wuertz in the eighth proved to be the final blow.

"I felt really good about [Wuertz], and in the back of my mind, I thought they might pinch-hit there," manager Bob Geren said. "But, either way, Wuertz was my guy right there. When he's on, his slider swing-and-miss pitch is the best in baseball, and that was actually a slider he hit. He just didn't get it where he wanted to.

"We came back and tied it. Anytime you get late in the game with a tie, and you have your better bullpen guys still available, usually it's to your advantage. It just didn't work out that way."

Rangers closer Neftali Feliz recorded the final four outs to secure his 38th save of the year, setting a new Major League rookie record. His efforts included stranding Jeremy Hermida on second base with one out in the ninth after center fielder Julio Borbon and right fielder Jeff Francoeur experienced a dose of miscommunication on a fly ball.

"When that ball fell, I wanted to go out there and punch Julio," Rangers manager Ron Washington joked later. "He's always almost running into people and that's the one time he lets it fall."

Still, the Rangers found themselves immersed in a hats-off celebration on Oakland's home turf just minutes later.

"Watching them celebrate on our field was not fun," Pennington admitted.

"They're pushing 90 wins, so they deserved it," Geren said. "Congratulations to the Texas Rangers and their organization."

The A's, however, have no plans of allowing Saturday's elimination put any sort of damper on their remaining eight games.

"We showed them that we're going to continue to battle," Gonzalez said. "This was by far one of those pitching matchups that I have to put up there in the top five of my career. It was definitely a competition of who was going to bite the bullet, and we fought till the very end. We gave them a run for their money. Hats off to them, though. They did a good job."

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.