A's officially punch postseason ticket
Chavez says trip especially rewarding considering injuries
SEATTLE -- At 9:37 p.m. Tuesday, the Rangers cut Oakland's magic number to one by finishing off a victory over the Angels in Anaheim.
Several minutes later, when the score was posted on the out-of-town scoreboard at Safeco Field, the sizable contingent of A's fans in the Emerald City stood and cheered.
And at 10:01, after three-plus days of disappointment with not having their magic number change at all, it shrunk to zero. In closing out a 12-3 drubbing of the host Mariners, their favorite 2006 punching bags, the A's finally punched their ticket to the postseason by clinching the American League West title.
As a lazy fly ball settled into the glove of right fielder Bobby Kielty, catcher Jason Kendall raised his arms in triumph and slowly walked, then ran, toward the joyous pile in the middle of the diamond.
In the champagne- and beer-soaked bedlam of the clubhouse, owner Lew Wolff was doused by a parade of players and foam sprayed in every direction as the A's saluted each other for the organization's first playoff berth since 2003 and fifth since 2000.
"Unbelievable," said Kendall, an 11-year veteran who will be making his postseason debut. "It feels exactly the way I thought it would feel, only better. A lot better."
Third baseman Eric Chavez, who is nursing a bad hamstring but refused to leave the game when the A's went up by 10 runs because he wanted to be on the field for the final out, said his fifth postseason party with the A's was the sweetest yet.
"It's more rewarding," he explained. "I know a lot of people were picking us as the favorite before the season started, but once all the injuries hit, we were kind of the underdogs. So to me, this team overachieved. It really did. And that's what makes it so special.
"My first trip to the playoffs will always be the most memorable for me personally, but team-wise, this one is at the top."
The A's were indeed tabbed by many as favorites to win the AL West coming out of Spring Training, but that was based on the assumption of health, and Oakland was anything but healthy for most of the year. The A's used the disabled list 15 times, losing a total of 556 games to injured players through Tuesday, and they weren't just any players.
Ace righty Rich Harden, who picked up the win Tuesday, was out for most of the season. Starting shortstop Bobby Crosby, outfielder Milton Bradley and lefty reliever Joe Kennedy also spent big chunks of time on the DL. And righty setup man Justin Duchscherer, righty starter Esteban Loaiza, designated hitter Frank Thomas, second baseman Mark Ellis and closer Huston Street were on the shelf at times, too.
Chavez and Kotsay were among a handful of players who didn't spend time on the DL, but they spent plenty of time in the trainers' room nursing a variety of ailments that cost them games, too.
"We've been through a lot this year, and that just adds to how great this feels," said Kotsay, who will go to the playoffs for the first time in his nine-year career. "That and the fact that for the last two seasons, we had to watch someone else celebrate right in front of us. So it's really a feeling of satisfaction and reward for sticking with each other all year."
Thomas, who signed an incentive-laden deal over the winter to join the young A's, echoed Kotsay's sentiments.
"It's just incredible," he said. "Obviously for me it's very satisfying, but this one is extra special because of what a great group of guys we have here. We went through a lot of adversity over the course of the year, and we could have packed it in when the injuries started piling up, but we didn't. We gutted it out and got it done.
"I've been through these celebrations before, but this one? This might be the one I'll remember most when it's all done, and I hope we have three more just like it in the next few weeks."
Harden, who threw five shutout innings, wasn't much interested in talking about his role in the title despite winning the clincher.
"This is way bigger than me," he said. "It's definitely been a frustrating year for me, but what these guys in this room did was amazing. They're the reason I got to be a part of this, and I'm so thankful for that."
Kielty, who sported swim goggles during the celebration to ward off the sting of cheap bubbly, said his mind went blank as the final out fell to him.
"It's hard to put into words," he said. "You're either going to think about everything, or you're going to think about nothing. I went with nothing. I'll think about everything later."
Chavez, who last Friday said he wouldn't mind clinching the title in Anaheim this weekend as payback for the Angels having celebrated in Oakland the past two seasons, had clearly already done some thinking as the party started to wind down.
"You know what?" he asked. "I know what I said, but I was wrong. Now that we've done it, I'm glad we did it here. The sooner the better."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.