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Must C Clutch: Matsui wins it for the A's

OAKLAND -- Just over 9,000 fans wandered into the Coliseum gates for a rare matinee showing between the A's and Rangers on Monday.

Some were gone by the time the 10th inning rolled around more than three hours later, but Hideki Matsui is hoping they'll all be back the next day, after the designated hitter launched a walk-off shot off Texas reliever Darren Oliver in the bottom of the 10th inning to secure a 5-4 A's victory.

"Hopefully there will be 100 more people coming to the game tomorrow," Matsui joked, through translator Roger Kahlon, after the win.

Matsui's shot to right field -- his third of the season but his first at the A's home park -- came on the first pitch from Oliver, against whom he owned a 1-for-10 career mark. It followed Josh Willingham's game-tying long ball in the eighth off another grizzled veteran, Arthur Rhodes.

"I've faced [Oliver] several times in the past, so I have a pretty good idea of what kind of pitches he throws, so I was looking for a fastball, and I pretty much got it where I expected," Matsui said.

"I was trying to get ahead with a fastball," Oliver said. "That's pretty much it. The old guys let us down today. More often than not we're going to get the job done, but today wasn't our day."

Rather, it was a day for Oakland to celebrate what manager Bob Geren deemed "the most exciting game of the year," as he watched his club take three of four from the defending American League champions while improving to 15-14 on the season and moving within 1 1/2 games of first place in the AL West.

"I've never seen this group that animated and excited after a win," Geren said. "Guys were just jumping high. I hope they didn't hit their head on the dugout. That ball came off the bat and it was loud. That was a thrill."

"If you saw it or heard it, you just knew," said third baseman Andy LaRoche, who enjoyed a 2-for-4 day. "It was a no-doubter. I was the first one on the field, jumping up and down."

"Matsui wasted no time in getting us that win," Kurt Suzuki added.

It marked the club's first walk-off of the season and the third of Matsui's career. The Japanese slugger, who scored the 1,500th run of his career (between the U.S. and Japan) just one day prior, narrowed in on the 500 home run mark with Monday's game-changing blast, his 496th.

LaRoche commented that even though he hasn't experienced as much communication with Matsui as he'd like, "It was the most excited I've seen him so far this season."

"He doesn't get excited too often," LaRoche said. "Just normally goes about his business."

The thrilling win wiped away a two-error day from A's starter Brandon McCarthy, whose miscues led to four unearned runs in an otherwise respectable six-inning performance that included six hits, two walks and four strikeouts against his former team.

McCarthy's pair of errors gave Oakland 27 on the season, which ties the club with Houston for most in the Majors, and almost prevented the A's from claiming the four-game set.

"It was an up-and-down day, pretty much a story of a few bad pitches in places where I shouldn't have made them," the right-hander said. "The errors, if someone is giving you an out, you gotta take them. Outside of that, for not really having a great outing, the way the guys battled back and got runs was really nice to see. I think we needed a win like that."

McCarthy was handed a 1-0 lead in the second thanks to an RBI squeeze bunt off the bat of Cliff Pennington against Texas starter Derek Holland. But he gave that lead right back in the third, when he surrendered a leadoff walk to Taylor Teagarden and bobbled a sacrifice bunt from Julio Borbon to put two runners on base.

An Elvis Andrus forceout wiped away Teagarden, and another forceout from Mitch Moreland put Borbon on third and Moreland on first with two outs. Michael Young doubled both of his teammates home as the Rangers took a 2-1 lead.

Suzuki, swinging with a newfound momentum following the birth of his daughter, Malia, knotted the game at 2 in the fourth with a solo shot to left field. The A's catcher is now 6-for-16 with two home runs and five RBIs since being reinstated from the paternity leave list on Friday.

Texas pulled away in the fifth by posting a two-spot -- aided by another error from McCarthy, this time on a bad throw -- but an RBI groundout from Matsui in the bottom half of the frame narrowed the Rangers' lead to one.

Willingham forced a tie in the eighth thanks to his fifth long ball of the season -- a leadoff shot to left field off Rhodes -- and finished the day 2-for-4. The A's outfielder has hit safely in seven of his past nine games and is batting .333 with two home runs and six RBIs over that span.

Oakland utilized six pitchers in the effort, including righty Grant Balfour (2-1), who was ultimately awarded the win after escaping a bases-loaded jam -- the result of three walks -- in the top of the 10th.

"I thought Grant was outstanding today," McCarthy said. "He did a great job pitching out of that."

Monday's effort, which brought about multiple ways of scoring, not only sent a message to the A's about their own talents, but sent one to the Rangers as well.

"It lets them know what we can do," Geren said. "I think they obviously respect our talent, and we respect them -- as they are the defending AL champions -- but to have this type of game and walk off in style like that definitely helps in a lot of different ways -- psychologically and in the standings."

"I think we're starting to play division games that we need to win," Willingham said. "These are series we need to win. Hopefully we see dividends of this win in September."

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