ARLINGTON, Texas – There are lots of major league teams that wish they were playing a meaningful regular-season finale Sunday.
The Oakland A’s aren’t one of them.
It once seemed realistic they might wrap up the American League West title early and get some time to fine-tune for the postseason. Their goals have required some adjusting, and they find themselves entering Game 162 once again trying to sew up an American League wild card berth that’s proving elusive.
The A’s fell 5-4 to the Texas Rangers on Saturday night, then got a second helping of bad news when the Seattle Mariners pulled out an 11-inning victory over the Los Angeles Angels that prevented the A’s from clinching.
Oakland either needs to beat Texas on Sunday afternoon behind right-hander Sonny Gray or hope that the Mariners drop their finale against the Angels in order to clinch a wild-card berth. If the A’s lose and the Mariners win, they’ll both finish 87-75 and they’ll play a tiebreaker game Monday in Seattle to decide who gets the second wild card.
Either Kansas City or Detroit will be the other wild card, and one of those two will host the AL wild-card game Tuesday.
“Obviously we wish we’d won,” A’s designated hitter Adam Dunn said. “But it is what it is. Again, we still own our destiny. Hopefully we can come out (Sunday) and get it done.”
And that’s what Dunn and other Athletics stressed – the fact that it would be sweeter to clinch a playoff spot with a victory rather than as a result of another team losing. Left unsaid was that nobody dreamed it would come to this for the A’s, who owned the majors’ best record for a bulk of the regular season.
They’ve gone 15-30 since Aug. 10 largely because of an offense that hasn’t come through with runners in scoring position. That issue reared its ugly head again Saturday. Though the A’s got RBI singles from Josh Reddick and Jed Lowrie in the eighth inning to pull to within 5-4, they were kicking themselves for not cashing in earlier in the game.
Two double-play grounders hurt. Pinch hitter Nate Freiman hit into one with no outs and runners on the corners, which stymied a promising rally, and Brandon Moss hit into another one with two men on in the sixth.
The A’s banged out 14 hits. But they also stranded a runner at third in the seventh. In the ninth, Nick Punto singled with one out, but pinch runner Billy Burns was thrown out trying to steal second with the A’s down a run.
“Words can’t describe it,” right fielder Josh Reddick said. “We climb back and climb back, and right when we get there, we just can’t get that one big hit that we need. It’s the same old story it seems like. Very frustating, and beyond.”
Right-hander Jeff Samardzija (5-6), so good over the past month, was touched for five runs over seven innings, including Jake Smolinski’s solo homer in the fourth and a two-run shot by Robinson Chirinos that gave the Rangers a 5-2 lead in the seventh.
Now the A’s will hand the ball Sunday to Gray, who is 1-6 with a 4.64 ERA over his past 10 starts but is coming off a 12-strikeout game against the Angels.
“At the end of the day, how you would want it is to control your own destiny,” outfielder Jonny Gomes said. “… We control our own destiny. I’m comfortable with that and all of these guys are comfortable with that.”