Oakland stuns Texas, wins West on final day

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Oakland stuns Texas, wins West on final day

From Comcast SportsNet

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Josh Hamilton made one thing clear: The Texas Rangers will forget their stunning season-ending sweep at Oakland and regroup as an American League wild card.

So much for a third straight AL West crown. Texas needed one win against the upstart Athletics in three games, and didn't get it.

"You guys have a hard time believing we can forget about it and move ahead," Hamilton said. "But that's what we get paid to do. We'll go home, regroup and go figure out what we have to do."

The Athletics captured the AL West with another improbable rally in a season full of them, coming back from four runs down and a 13-game division deficit to beat the two-time defending league champion Rangers 12-5 on Wednesday.

Hamilton dropped a fly ball in center field for a two-run error that put the A's (94-68) ahead 7-5 in a six-run fourth inning. The A's only added to Texas' troubles the rest of the way.

"You can have all the experience as you want but when you run into a team that's hot, experience has nothing to do with it," Rangers manager Ron Washington said.

Texas (93-69) is headed to the new one-game, wild-card playoff at home against Baltimore on Friday night, with the winner playing the New York Yankees in the division series.

The A's get some time off before opening the division series in their first postseason appearance since 2006, playing Game 1 at Detroit on Saturday.

The Athletics needed a sweep and they delivered to win their first division crown in six years and 15th in all. They overcame a five-game deficit in the final nine days and took sole possession of the West's top spot for the first time this year.

"We knew this is a beast of a team we would have to beat, and to be able to beat them three games in a row and win the division on top of it, really it's a magical type thing," manager Bob Melvin said.

Grant Balfour retired Michael Young on a fly to center for the final out, then raised his arms in the air as the A's streamed out of the dugout and began bouncing up and down in the infield.

"2012 AL WEST CHAMPIONS" flashed on the scoreboard two days after the A's clinched a playoff spot Monday and held a wild dance party in the clubhouse.

"I'm glad there's not one tomorrow or Friday," owner Lew Wolff said. "I can relax and go home. I'm running out of underwear."

Players high-fived fans while taking a victory lap through the rundown Coliseum, where the outfield still has a light patch of grass from football in the venue shared by the NFL's Raiders.

Soon, the celebratory champagne and beer made its way to the field -- and players sprayed it into the stands. The A's returned to the field almost an hour later to greet fans still gathered along the top of the dugout.

Oakland pulled off another remarkable performance in a season defined by thrilling walkoffs, rallies and whipped-cream pie celebrations by a team that was never supposed to be here.

A club that trailed Texas by 13 games on June 30. A club with a 59.5 million payroll, lowest in baseball. General manager Billy Beane found ways to get a blue-collar franchise back to the playoffs for the first time since being swept by Detroit in the 2006 AL championship series.

Coco Crisp hit a tying two-run double in the fourth against Derek Holland (12-7) and Brandon Moss drove in three runs, including a two-run single in the four-run eighth.

Rookie winning pitcher Evan Scribner (2-0) left the mound in the sixth to a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 30,067. He allowed two hits and struck out two in three scoreless innings after replacing struggling starter A.J. Griffin.

Ryan Cook, pitching for a fifth consecutive game, gave up a double to Nelson Cruz before retiring the next three Texas hitters with strikeouts of David Murphy and Mike Napoli. Catcher Derek Norris pumped his right arm as the Coliseum fans jumped to their feet.

Norris then homered leading off the bottom of the eighth for his second RBI. It was his seventh homer and Oakland's majors-leading 112th since the All-Star break.

"Ever since Day 1 I've been here, it's been, the A's can't compete with the payroll, can't compete with this team or that team," Norris said. "We're better off if we're down. It just gives us the extra energy."

The A's join the NL West champion San Francisco Giants as division champions. The Bay Area is already buzzing about a possible Bay Bridge World Series like the 1989 championship swept by Oakland, one interrupted by an earthquake.

Hamilton's miscue while charging forward might haunt the to-be free agent if his Rangers don't get past their wild-card game.

"I just missed it, man," Hamilton said.

Murphy's two-run single highlighted a five-run third inning that put Texas in prime position.

In the fourth, Moss drew a leadoff walk and Josh Reddick followed with an RBI double. Josh Donaldson singled and Seth Smith's base hit made it 5-3 and chased Ryan Dempster with none out and runners on first and second.

Washington turned to the lefty Holland, a starter who was tagged for four runs in the first inning of the second game of Sunday's doubleheader with the Angels before working into the seventh.

He retired the first two batters before Crisp's double down the right-field line.

The only other teams to come back from at least 13 games down to win the division were the 1914 Boston Braves, the 1951 New York Giants, the 78 Yankees and the 95 Seattle Mariners.

"Anything can happen in the long season," said Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish, who will start the wild-card game. "That's why we play 162 games. We're going to forget about this and get ready for the next one."

Now, Texas has all the pressure as they try to make another run deep into October.

These are the same Rangers who twice came within one strike of the franchise's first World Series championship before losing Games 6 and 7 to the wild-card St. Louis Cardinals. It was Texas' second near miss in as many years after losing the 2010 World Series to the Giants.

"We have to go win that playoff game," Napoli said. "We didn't come here to lose. They got it done and we didn't, plain and simple. It's going to be a tough road."

Five observations from Ravens OTAs

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Five observations from Ravens OTAs

The Ravens are wrapping up their first of three -- oops, make that two -- weeks of OTA workouts this week, and Thursday's session was the first open to the media. Here are five observations after catching the first partial glimpse of the 2016 Ravens (partial because more than a dozen players, including many starters, sat out the voluntary workouts either by choice or because of injury.)

This wide receiver group appears impressive

Steve Smith Sr. wasn't even there, but Breshad Perriman, Mike Wallace and rookie Chris Moore all look like they will be nice options for Joe Flacco (who, incidentally, watched the OTAs in a T-shirt as he continues his knee rehab.). Heck, the fact that Perriman was on the field is already a big improvement over last year. Kamar Aiken reverts to being a very solid No. 3 or No. 4 option if this group stays healthy. Speaking of health, Michael Camapanaro (calf) missed the workout, and with this group of receivers, including Navy's Keenan Reynolds, Campanaro is one more nagging injury from not making this roster. 

Dennis Pitta could leave the Ravens in a very tough spot

Good for Dennis Pitta to work back from his second major hip injury and get back on the field, even if for noncontact OTAs. He ran, cut and caught well, and he said after the workout that he felt great physically. "My level of expectation is extremely high going into this year," he said. "Like I said, I feel confident in how I can run, how I can move, how I can play." But if Pitta, who turns 31 next month, is indeed healthy, then what? The Ravens brought in Ben Watson this year, and already have two promising young tight ends in Crockett Gillmore and second-year, second-round pick Maxx Williams. None of them are going anywhere. Would the Ravens cut Pitta, one of the most likable players on the team and a close friend of Joe Flacco's, after his grueling rehab? Would they keep four tight ends? That would be highly unusual, but not out of the question with Marc Trestman's offense. Incidentally, tight end Todd Heap was 31 when the Ravens let him go.

Interesting look at inside linebacker

With Daryl Smith gone and C.J. Mosley sitting out, rookie second-round pick Kamalei Correa, billed as an edge rusher, spent a lot of time at inside linebacker. Coach John Harbaugh said afterward that Correa "has inside linebacker traits." The Ravens also appear to be looking at safety Anthony Levine as a linebacker option. He did some individual work with the inside linebackers and spent some time as an inside linebacker in 7-on-7 drills. Coverage was a big issue for Ravens linebackers last year, so if Levine and Correa show they can cover well over the middle, that versatility could be a big plus.

Lardarius Webb seems at home at safety

The move from corner to safety should agree with Lardarius Webb. He drifted over well in deep coverage, but it wasn't encouraging to see a potential interception bounce off his hands. This team had a franchise-record-low six interceptions last year. Webb said moving to safety has been "a great transition. I’m loving it. I have more control of the defense."

Losing a week of OTAs isn't the end of the world

The Ravens have been docked next week's OTA workouts as a penalty for reportedly having players in pads for a brief portion of their rookie minicamp in violation of the current collective bargaining agreement. It certainly isn't a good look, but it shouldn't have much bearing on whether the Ravens can beat the Steelers on Christmas night. Many veterans weren't on the field this week anyway. It might be a speed bump in development for Ravens rookies and other newcomers, but there's a lot of training camp for that. Three days off in June might do some bodies good. If anyone is hurt by this it might be Keenan Reynolds -- the former Navy quarterback is trying to quickly learn the wide receiver position, and he missed the OTAs this week because of his graduation in Annapolis.

Penguins' Rust proving why bottom six matters

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Penguins' Rust proving why bottom six matters

News, notes and some World Cup of Hockey roster announcements as the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks prepare to battle it out in the Stanley Cup Final:

Rust never sleeps: Caps GM Brian MacLellan wasn’t just whistling Dixie when he said the Caps need to infuse offense into their bottom two forward lines.

The Caps received just four even-strength goals in 12 games from their bottom six forwards – three from Jay Beagle and one from Jason Chimera. (Justin Williams added three goals, two of them when he was dropped to a third line).

The Penguins, on the other hand, have gotten 22 even-strength goals from their bottom six, including two from Bryan Rust in their series-clinching 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night.

Rust’s second goal came just 30 seconds after the Lightning tied the game in the second period, to help the Penguins advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the fifth time in franchise history (1991, 1992, 2008, 2009, 2016).

Rust became the second rookie in NHL history to record multiple goals in two series-clinching wins in a single postseason. The other was Chicago’s Jeremy Roenick in 1990.

Rust has five goals through 17 playoff games, which matches his career total from his 55 regular-season appearances (5 goals, 8 assists).

Rookie goalies: Per Elias, Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray (16 saves) and Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy (37 saves) became the sixth set of rookie goaltenders to face off in a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup playoffs and the first since the 2006 Eastern Conference Final, when Carolina’s Cam Ward defeated Buffalo’s Ryan Miller.

Game 7s: The Penguins are now 8-7 all-time in Game 7s, including a 3-7 record at home. Their home win in a Game 7 was their first since the 1995 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals when they beat the Caps 3-0. …The team that scores first improved to 124-42 (.747) all-time in Game 7s, including a 5-0 record this year. … Home teams improved to 97-69 (.584) all-time in Game 7s in the Stanley Cup playoffs, including a 4-1 record this year.

Next up: Based on their superior regular-season point total, the Penguins will host Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, which begins Monday night at Consol Energy Center.

Late arrival: Lightning captain Steven Stamkos logged 11:55 and two shots on goal while playing in his first game since March 31. … Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin totaled 5 goals and 9 assists in 17 playoff games. He had 4 goals and 10 assists in 21 regular season games.

Ask Stanley on Twitter: Phil Pritchard, the Keeper of the Cup, will visit Twitter Canada’s headquarters in Toronto today for a Q&A with fans beginning at 11:30 a.m. ET. Twitter members can use the #AskStanley hashtag to ask Pritchard (@keeperofthecup) questions about his adventures with the Cup as well as what to expect heading into the Stanley Cup Final.

World Cup announcements: The Caps had no additions to Team Russia, Team Czech Republic and Team Finland, which announced their complete 23-man World Cup rosters earlier today.

But they could have additions to Team USA (Matt Niskanen).

Here is the complete announcement schedules for today:

Team Finland – 3 a.m.
Team Czech Republic – 5 a.m.
Team Russia – 5 a.m.
Team Sweden – 11 a.m.
Team Europe – 6:09 p.m.
Team USA – 6:13 p.m.
Team North America – 6:16 p.m.
Team Canada – 6:22 p.m.

Joe Ross' seventh-inning escape helps him get back in win column

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Joe Ross' seventh-inning escape helps him get back in win column

Part of the maturation process for any young starting pitcher in big leagues typically involves learning how to work through tough situations late in games — even if running on fumes. And in the seventh inning of Thursday's 2-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals, Dusty Baker leaned on Joe Ross to do just that. 

With the Nats clinging to a one-run lead, the Cards sent Yadier Molina to the plate with men on first and second base and no outs as Washington's 23-year-old right hander's pitch count was climbing past triple digits. Though Baker had lefty reliever Oliver Perez warming in the bullpen just in case, the Nats' skipper trusted his starter to find a way to get through the frame.

That trust paid off; Ross struck out Molina and then induced a ground ball from Kolten Wong for an inning-ending double play. The key moment came on Ross' 110th pitch of the night — a career-high — which helped snap his personal four-game losing streak to even his record at 4-4. 

"Kind of a big deal," Ross said of the seventh. "[Baker] trusts the starters to work our way out of the jams. He’s definitely shown that not only with me but all of the other guys. I think it’s good you kind of earn that trust or he let's you go out there and do your job. To be able to get out of the inning was huge."

Of course, one inning doesn't define what a pitcher is made of, but Thursday's effort was yet another step in Ross' evolution as he showed an important trait that Baker wants to see from his rotation. 

"What it can do for him is to pitch to the situation," the manager said. "Sometimes you need a strikeout, which he got on Yadier Molina, a very tough hitter. And then he pitched to the situation to try get a ground ball from Kolten Wong, and that's what pitching's all about....You hit to the situation, and you pitch to the situation. We were fortunate enough tonight that Joe did both."

"It was big for me to kind of build that confidence late in the game to try and get out of there and give us a chance to win," Ross added. 

Ross' escape was impressive, but hardly surprising. The former San Diego Padres farmhand has shown poise beyond his years ever since he joined the Nats organization in December of 2014. And after Thursday's outing, he owns an ERA of 2.52 for the season, lowest among Nats' starters. Not bad for a guy who was once considered the secondary piece of the trade that sent top shortstop prospect Trea Turner to Washington.  

"It's a lot of fun to watch him pitch, especially at the age he is," Bryce Harper said. "Being able to come up and do what he did last year and do what he's doing now. He's got the stuff to be very, very good one day."