10/03/12 11:50 PM ET
Clinches, Crown cap captivating season finale
By AJ Cassavell / MLB.com
For 161 games in 2012, all 30 teams put everything on the line, delivering plenty of excitement in the forms of dramatic pennant races in both leagues.
And yet when Game 162 rolled around on Wednesday, there was still so much to be decided.
Four games had important playoff implications on Wednesday, and that didn't include the finale in Kansas City that saw Miguel Cabrera cement himself in baseball lore by winning the first Triple Crown in 45 years. The A's also made history, coming from a 13-game deficit to win the American League West on the season's final day.
What a day it was.
It all started with the Nationals clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs thanks to a 5-1 victory over Philadelphia. That means they'll face the winner of Friday's National League Wild Card game between St. Louis and Atlanta, while the Reds will face San Francisco in the NLDS, beginning Saturday.
"Obviously, winning the division was a goal, and now we have done that," Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "And now we have a chance to go do some stuff in the playoffs. This is a great season, a great team, a good group of guys. We have accomplished a lot that we should be proud of, but we have a lot more to accomplish, hopefully."
Once that game was over, the AL West took center stage for a de facto division title game in Oakland -- an amazing fact given that the A's trailed Texas by 13 games on June 30.
But with the best second half in the Majors, the A's stormed back, and, needing a sweep to claim a division crown, they won twice, then came from behind in the final game to win, 12-5.
"I don't think it took 162 games to check the character of this ballclub," Oakland clubhouse leader Jonny Gomes said. "We were like a train -- we got on that track and just kept it going. No east and west, we knew we were just going north."
The A's plated 11 unanswered runs to take a seven-run lead into the ninth, and closer Grant Balfour sent O.co Coliseum into a frenzy when he got the final batter of the game to fly to center.
The A's became the first team in history to complete a comeback of five games with nine to play and win the division outright. They also became the first team since the 1914 Braves to come back from a deficit of 13 or more games and win the division outright. (The other three teams to accomplish the feat -- the '51 Giants, '78 Yankees and '95 Mariners all needed a playoff to clinch.)
By the end of the night, the AL playoffs were set, as the Yankees clinched the division with an emphatic 14-2 victory over Boston. Robinson Cano went 4-for-4 with a pair of homers, and Curtis Granderson also added two dingers as the Yankees clinched the top seed in the AL.
They'll face the winner of Friday's AL Wild Card game between the Orioles and Rangers. It will be played in Texas because of the Orioles' 4-0 loss in Tampa Bay on Wednesday.
The other playoff series pits the A's against the Tigers in a rematch of the 2006 AL Championship Series, which the Tigers swept. That series also marked the last time Oakland was in the playoffs.
And speaking of the Tigers, their all-world third baseman completed one of the best seasons in history on Wednesday night. Cabrera's .330 average, 44 homers and 139 RBIs earned him the first Triple Crown since 1967, when Boston's Carl Yastrzemski accomplished the feat.
A Triple Crown and two thrilling division races highlighted baseball's final day.
And to think, it's all just a prelude for the month to come, as the playoffs begin Friday.