OAKLAND, CA (USA TODAY) - It was close, but no cigar for the 2012 Tampa Bay Rays.
Despite going on a blazing hot 11-1 run down the home stretch of the season, the gap for an AL wildcard playoff spot was just too great for the Rays to close.
They were officially eliminated for playoff contention late Monday night, thanks to the Oakland A's defeating the Texas Rangers, 4-3.
With their win Monday, Oakland is within striking distance of an AL West crown.
If that seems unlikely, consider the A's traded away two All-Star starters and their closer in the offseason, then lost their three most experienced starters in the second half of the season.
And yet, with Monday's win over Texas, they are now within a game of the division lead with two left to play.
Winning those last two hardly seems more far-fetched that the club with the majors' second-lowest payroll at the start of the season crashing the playoff party.
"We feel like we have a shot still at it and we're not going to stop until you know we can't,'' third baseman Josh Donaldson said amid champagne showers, cigar smoke and blaring music in the winning clubhouse.
"Texas is a great team, but I think they realize there's a really good team over here as well. We're going to continue to play our tails off and hopefully get that division.''
Oakland broke a 2-2 tie with a two-run fifth that featured a Coco Crisp RBI double, followed by a stolen base that put him in position to score on pinch-hitter Brandon Moss' shallow fly to center.
Mike Napoli's home run leading off the seventh narrowed the margin to 4-3 and ended starter Jarrod Parker's night, but three A's relievers retired nine consecutive batters, with Grant Balfour striking out the side in the ninth to earn the save.
A's players poured out of the dugout and formed a massive group hug around Balfour and catcher Derek Norris as the crowd of 21,162 chanted, "Let's go Oakland.''
Designated hitter Jonny Gomes, one of the sage veterans on the youthful A's, said the club fully intends to celebrate again in two days.
"There are 13 guys in their first year here. I might be one of the few who have done this before,'' he said. "This is contagious.''
The Rangers, who have sat atop the AL West for all but two days of the season, still need only one win to clinch their third consecutive division crown.
And they look like a solid bet, given that they're sending 18-game winner Matt Harrison to the mound tonight against Travis Blackley, who gave up a total of eight earned runs in three innings in his last two starts.
"We're fine. We just have to win a ballgame tomorrow,'' Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Oakland earned it. We certainly didn't give it to them.''
Oakland entered the day with a magic number of one for getting a wild-card berth, while the Rangers would clinch the division with a victory. That set up the unique scenario of both teams possibly holding champagne-spraying celebrations if Texas beat the A's but the Los Angeles Angels and Tampa Bay Rays lost - thereby giving Oakland a spot in the postseason for the first time since 2006.
Both the Angels and Rays won, so the A's burst in right through the front door, winning for the sixth time in their last seven games.The A's overcame the absence of the suspended Bartolo Colon and the injured Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson, which forced them to navigate the final two weeks of the season with an all-rookie rotation. They're 8-4 so far with such a setup.
"We're the underdogs and we'll probably continue to be the underdogs, but we've opened a lot of eyes,'' said Crisp, who went 2-for-4 and scored twice, sparking Oakland's two-run first with a leadoff single.
"Tomorrow, after all this mayhem is over with, we're going to be able to settle down and come back and focus.''
If not, their playoff appearance is still safe.