OAKLAND -- The A's started the final month of the regular season with a sweep of the Rays on Sunday at O.co Coliseum. Oakland (78-58) took the series finale, 5-1, to extend its lead to 2 1/2 games over Tampa Bay (75-60) for the first Wild Card spot in the American League and pull within one game of the Rangers in the AL West.
The A's opened September on a winning note after going 17-11 in the season's final month last year to claim the division title.
Oakland entered this series a half-game behind the Rays in the Wild Card chase, and with Texas coming to town for a three-game set starting Monday, the A's now look to secure more than just home-field advantage in the one-game postseason matchup.
"I don't want the [Wild Card] game," said A's manager Bob Melvin, who admitted to keeping tabs on the Rangers' 4-2 loss to the Twins on the out-of-town scoreboard in left field. "You try not to get too caught up in it but you can't help it. Everybody is, and once you get into September, it feels like the finish line is in sight."
A.J. Griffin held the Rays to one run on five hits through seven innings, striking out seven and walking one. The run came on a solo shot by James Loney in the second inning -- Griffin's Major League-leading 33rd homer surrendered this season.
"I've been feeling pretty good lately, the results just haven't been there, trying to become a pitcher I'm not, like a power-pitcher-type thing," Griffin said. "Today [pitching coach Curt Young] and I found some stuff mechanically, keeping my head on line a bit more, and that helped tremendously. I felt I could execute my pitches and get the ball where I needed it more."
The A's starters allowed four runs in 20 2/3 innings in the three games to complete their first sweep of three or more games since a mid-June series against the Yankees. The win was Griffin's second straight after going winless in his previous four starts.
"It's where it all starts with us. The starters, if they can get deep in games, going against a staff like they have over there, you know you're not going to score a ton of runs," Melvin said. "The whole series, up until the last inning of this game, felt like a couple runners on and you don't know where it's going. So the starters to be able to get us that deep and pitch that well really make it a lot easier to finish out those games."
Coco Crisp led off the scoring with a home run in the first inning to give the A's an early advantage. It was his sixth home run in his past 11 games and 16th of the year, matching his career high for a single season.
Melvin said the kick-start gave them momentum, but the A's failed to capitalize on a bases-loaded situation later in the inning -- a letdown that was masked by Griffin's pitching.
Rays starter Jamey Wright didn't last long. The right-handed reliever, who learned Saturday that he was getting the starting nod, had expectations of tossing 40 pitches. He threw 36 over 1 2/3 innings and was one of seven pitchers used by the Rays.
The A's tacked on four more runs with an RBI single by Brandon Moss in the third inning, a home run by Stephen Vogt in the seventh and a two-run rally in the eighth.
Vogt's home run came a day after knocking a triple and scoring the A's go-ahead run in Saturday night's 2-1 win. Traded to the A's from Tampa Bay in April, Vogt failed to record a hit in 27 plate appearances with the Rays last season.
The A's backstop also took part in a run-saving play in the seventh, when Desmond Jennings hit a single to shallow left field with a runner on second and two outs. Yoenis Cespedes fired the ball toward the plate, which Josh Donaldson cut off and relayed home to nab Wil Myers trying to score from second base.
Vogt contorted his body so that Myers would have to either bowl through or slide around him, with Myers opting for the latter option. The play actually required Vogt to tag Myers twice for good measure after home-plate umpire Tony Randazzo didn't initially signal an out.
"I knew he was nowhere near the plate and I had time to go back and get him," Vogt said. "If that's a play where he slides in and he's at the plate, I'm not going to go back and tag him. I'm going to act like I tagged him the first time. So fortunately he was well off the plate and I had time to go back and tag him."
"I knew the situation, the line drive was hit to my right and I froze on it," Myers added. "I should have gotten a better read on it. I didn't know where the ball was, so I was just trying to avoid the tag. When you're not scoring runs, things like that get magnified."
The protected lead was vital with closer Grant Balfour unavailable after pitching the three previous days. Dan Otero started the eighth but was quickly pulled after giving up a leadoff double. Sean Doolittle then retired the next three batters, and Ryan Cook, Oakland's closer for a large portion of last season, secured the win in the ninth.
Balfour should be available Monday considering the A's next opponent and how Melvin sent the Aussie closer to the mound five straight days to end last season to secure the come-from-behind AL West championship. Expect similar measures to be taken, as the rest of the season will have a playoff-type atmosphere.
"I think it did in Baltimore, it felt that way," Melvin said. "It certainly did in Detroit. In this series, again. Texas probably brings it to another level. Based on the rivalry we have going with them from last year, they're a game up on us right now. ... That's the one that probably peaks more people and certainly gets our attention."
Jeff Kirshman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.