July 18, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics relief pitcher Travis Blackley (54) pitches against the Texas Rangers during the third inning at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-US PRESSWIRE

A's 3-1 Victory Sets Stage For Massive Game 162

Not that there was any doubt that the Oakland Athletics had their sights set on the AL West even after clinching a playoff spot Monday night, but tonight’s game showed the same level of intensity and grit that has gotten the A’s to this point in the first place.  From the beginning the outcome of this game hinged on the performance of Travis Blackley who had pitched a total of 3 innings in his previous two starts.  Blackley worked a clean first inning, and seemed to gain a huge boost of confidence as the game carried on.  His lone blemish came in the 3rd inning after Ian Kinsler walked and Josh Hamilton drove him in with an RBI double.  Blackley settled in very nicely after that and worked his way through 6 very solid innings allowing just 3 hits and 2 walks to get the victory.  He would face the minimum the rest of the way, erasing an error and a walk with a couple double play balls.

The A’s got themselves off the mat in the 5th inning after Matt Harrison seemed to be really settling into a groove having retired 9 in a row.  Josh Reddick singled, and Brandon Moss doubled to put runners at 2nd and 3rd with nobody out.  Derek Norris came to bat with a chance to even up the score, in a terrific piece of hitting he drove the ball to the right side scoring Reddick from 3rd.  Moss was going to be held at 3rd since the ball was hit hard and right at right fielder Nelson Cruz, but Cruz had trouble fielding the ball and Moss was able to break for home and score standing.  The A’s had a 2-1 lead and were not going to relinquish it for anything.

Jonny Gomes, recipient of the 2012 Catfish Hunter Award prior to the game saw fit to add a little cushion to the A’s lead with the long ball.  It came with 2 outs after Yoenis Cespedes was picked off.  So the A’s had a 3-1 lead that could’ve been 4-1, but they were willing to work with a 2 run lead.  Sean Doolittle worked a scoreless 7th inning, erasing a single with a double play.  Ryan Cook allowed a lead off single to Mitch Moreland in the 8th inning, and two groundballs moved him to 3rd, but a 3rd ground ball and a nifty play by Josh Donaldson charging the ball retired the side.

Grant Balfour came in for his 3rd straight save opportunity and once again slammed the door shut with authority.  After a groundout and a nice play up the middle by Cliff Pennington on a ball off the bat of Josh Hamilton, Balfour made Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz look helpless at the plate with his blazing fastball to seal the victory.  With that the miraculous season of the A’s took another step as they are now tied atop the AL West.

The massiveness of tomorrow afternoon’s game (Which I’m hearing is already sold out from various Twitter sources) can not possibly be overstated.  A.J. Griffin (7-1, 2.71 ERA) will take on Ryan Dempster (7-3, 4.64 ERA with the Rangers) in a winner take all contest for the 2012 AL West.  The winner of tomorrow’s game will play in Detroit for game 1 of the ALDS against the Tigers in all likelihood, the loser will face either the Baltimore Orioles or the New York Yankees Friday in the first ever AL Wild Card game.  The stakes are huge, and the pressure will be on, but A.J. Griffin has stared down every high pressure situation and has excelled.  Either way we’ll know by late tomorrow afternoon what path into the playoffs the A’s will take, but as we’ve been saying the playoffs for the A’s have already started.

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