OAKLAND — In the middle of another improbable clubhouse celebration, rookie catcher Derek Norris hoped the experts would keep picking against the A's in the playoffs.

"We're better off when we're doubted,'' he said.

Anything seemed possible after the A's capped an incredible late-season surge to capture the American League West championship on Wednesday. They beat the Texas Rangers 12-5, capping a comeback that saw them slip as far as 13 games back on June 30.

Their win marked the only day all season that the A's have been in sole possession of first place.

"It's the only day that matters,'' outfielder Josh Reddick said.

The A's triumphed in typically mind-boggling fashion, roaring back from an early deficit and scoring a pair of go-ahead runs when Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton dropped a routine flyball to center.

That opened the door for the A's to win their 15th A.L. West Championship. Only the Yankees (17 heading into today) and the Braves (16) have won more.

By winning the division, rather than settling for a wild-card spot, the A's will play a best-of-5 series against an opponent to be determined by the Yankees-Red Sox game later Wednesday.

If the Yankees win, the A's would enter as the No. 2 seed in the A.L. and would travel to Detroit for games on Oct. 6 and 7 before returning to Oakland Oct. 9, 10 and 11.


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If the Yankees lose, the A's would be the A.L.'s No. 1 seed and play at the winner of the wild card game Oct. 7 and 8 and in Oakland on Oct. 10, 11 and 12.

It's hard to imagine the Coliseum being any more rollicking than it was Wednesday. The stadium -- so desolate for much of the season — drew a sellout crowd of 36,067 (including 1,000 standing-room only tickets and a tarped-off upper deck).

Fans, some of them wearing names like "Rudi" and "Blue" on their jerseys as a nod to the team's glory days, were on their feet almost from the first pitch.

They were never louder than in the fourth inning, as the A's erased a 5-1 deficit. The big hit came from Coco Crisp, whose two-run double to right field tied the score at 5-5.

The big break came from Hamilton, the Rangers' one-time MVP candidate.

Yoeneis Cespedes hit what looked like a routine fly ball but as the center fielder jogged one step too far the popped out of his glove. It hit the turf as Crisp and Stephen Drew raced home.

Only four previous teams had come back from a deficit of 13 or more games to win a pennant or division title:

  • The 1914 Boston Braves (trailed by 15 games through July 4).

  • The 1978 New York Yankees (14 games through July 18).

  • The 1951 New York Giants (13 games back through Aug. 10)

    The Oakland Athletics’ Ryan Cook (48) reacts to striking out the Texas Rangers’ Mike Napoli (25) for the final out with 2 runners in scoring
    The Oakland Athletics' Ryan Cook (48) reacts to striking out the Texas Rangers' Mike Napoli (25) for the final out with 2 runners in scoring positioninf the 7th inning of their winner take all game played at the O.co Coliseum in Oakland, Calif. on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. (Dan Honda/Staff) ( Dan Honda )

  • The 1995 Seattle Mariners (13 games back through Aug. 1).

    "It's crazy. It's not how you start, it's how you finish, right?'' reliever Sean Doolittle said.

    Only two previous division or pennant winners had spent just one day in sole possession of first: the 2006 Minnesota Twins and the 1951 Giants.

    The A's held on this time in part because relievers Evan Scribner (2-0), Jerry Blevins, Ryan Cook, Doolittle and Grant Balfour combined for 6 1/3 scoreless innings.

    That overworked group still looked fresh — and loose. An A's roster that used an A.L.-high 19 rookies this season played with a breezy confidence beyond their years.

    "I just think we're too young and dumb to feel much pressure,'' Norris said. "We just play baseball, you know?"