OAKLAND -- Fittingly, this season in which the Athletics have so often relied on the magic they conjure in their final at-bats has boiled down to its final day.
The Athletics beat the Texas Rangers, 3-1, on Tuesday night to pull even with the Rangers atop the American League West and force what amounts to a winner-take-all game on Wednesday for the division crown.
The winner will advance straight to a divisional playoff series. The loser goes to Friday's win-or-go-home wild-card game.
It seemed unlikely even a week ago that the Rangers would be fighting for their playoff lives Friday. But the A's have won seven of their last eight games and the Rangers have lost six of their last eight, and the five-game lead that Texas held Sept. 24 has evaporated.
Meanwhile, the Athletics, who trailed the Rangers by 13 games on June 30, could become just the fifth team in major league history to come back from a deficit at least that large to win a pennant or division title. The 1995 Seattle Mariners were the last to do so.
The A's had already clinched their first playoff berth in six years Monday night, and the bubbly aroma had not entirely faded from the clubhouse when they reassembled Tuesday. But with the division title still in reach, manager Bob Melvin before the game quashed any notions of a collective hangover.
"I think it's business as usual for us," Melvin said. "It's not like anybody was here until 2 in the morning (Monday) night."
Still, the Oakland bats were silent for the first four innings, scratching out a lone single against Rangers left-hander Matt Harrison, who this season became only the eighth Texas pitcher to win 18 games.
They stirred awake in the fifth, along with an edgy announced crowd of 30,660 at O.co Coliseum. Josh Donaldson drew a leadoff walk, Brandon Moss lined a double down the right-field line to send Donaldson to third, and Derek Norris, lunging over the plate, lined a single to right.
Right fielder Nelson Cruz bobbled his exchange, and Moss slid in safely at home to give the A's a 2-1 lead that left-hander Travis Blackley, turning in his best start since July, did his part to protect.
Five days after a dreadful start in Texas in which he gave up five runs in the first inning, Blackley stifled the Rangers' lineup for most of six innings, scattering three hits and stranding leadoff runners in the second, fourth and sixth.
The A's caught a break in the second when Mike Napoli's hard-hit liner with runners on first and third and one out traveled straight to third baseman Donaldson. Blackley, who had posted a 10.80 ERA in four outings September, then froze Geovany Soto on a two-strike breaking ball to get out of the jam.
Named the top rookie in the AL in September earlier in the day, Yoenis Cespedes was caught stealing in the sixth inning with Jonny Gomes at the plate, which proved costly when Gomes crushed a pitch into the left-field bleachers for his 18th home run.
But for the final three innings, the A's turned to the same bullpen pattern they clinched behind on Monday - and got the same results.
Sean Doolittle defused a one-out single in the seventh by getting Napoli to ground into a double play.
Ryan Cook, the A's lone All-Star representative who later lost the closer's job, pitched around a leadoff single with three groundouts in the eighth.
And closer Grant Balfour, with help from second baseman Cliff Pennington's nifty backhanded play to rob Josh Hamilton of a leadoff hit, struck out Adrian Beltre and Cruz to finish the game and prolong this race to its very end.
NOTES The A's estimated a walk-up crowd of 12,000. ... The gametime temperature of 87 degrees was the warmest of the year in Oakland. ... The other teams to come back from at least 13 games down were the 1914 Boston Braves, the 1951 New York Giants, the '78 Yankees and the '95 Seattle Mariners. ... Oakland reliever Pat Neshek will miss the final two games for the birth of his first child. ...
Gomes won the Jim "Catfish" Hunter Award, which honors an A's player whose play on the field and conduct in the clubhouse best exemplifies the courageous, competitive and inspirational spirit demonstrated by the late Hall of Fame pitcher.
He also picked up a media award and another team award on Tuesday.
"I win all the awards you can't take to arbitration," Gomes quipped. ...
Texas RHP Mike Adams rejoined the team after receiving a cortisone injection in his strained neck Monday. It is unknown when he will be able to pitch again.