The Texas Rangers are returning to the site where their bid for a third straight World Series appearance may have essentially ended.
The Oakland Athletics swept three home games from the Rangers to capture an unlikely AL West crown the last time these teams met heading into Monday night's opener of a three-game set.
Texas (24-13) was forced to settle for a wild card after getting outscored 19-9 by Oakland (19-20) on the final three games of 2012. The Athletics earned their first division title in six seasons while the Rangers went on to lose the wild-card game to Baltimore.
These teams are first and second place in the West again, with Texas holding a six-game lead. That probably doesn't mean much since the Rangers led the Athletics by nine games after June 1 last year.
Manager Ron Washington will have Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler back in his lineup after giving those players a day off Sunday. It hardly mattered as the Rangers turned in their highest scoring effort of the season in their fourth straight win, 12-7 at Houston."The type of team that I have this year, guys have been getting opportunities to play a little more than I have in the past," Washington said. "So I think they're more prepared and more ready to go up there when there's opportunity for them to play and do the job."
Adrian Beltre doubled twice among his four hits, drove in four runs and homered for the second straight game.
Beltre led Texas with four homers and 22 hits in last year's season series with Oakland, as Texas lost 11 of 19 games. Beltre struggled with a .221 average and Kinsler batted .240.
The Rangers had trouble slowing down Derek Norris , who had 10 RBIs while batting .371 in 10 games. The same could be said of how they fared against Yoenis Cespedes , who hit .365 with three homers and 10 RBIs.
Oakland returns home after capping a 3-7 road trip with its sixth loss in seven games, 6-1 to Seattle on Sunday.
Texas starter Justin Grimm (2-2, 3.45 ERA) has yielded eight runs in dropping consecutive outings after allowing four over 17 innings in his first three of 2013.
The right-hander's lone appearance against the A's came in relief last season.
Oakland will start A.J. Griffin (3-3, 3.83), who posted a 4.15 ERA and did not receive a decision in two 2012 outings against Texas.
The A's are 10-2 in Griffin's career home starts, including one in the postseason. The right-hander is 4-1 with a 3.39 ERA in those games.
|May 06, 2013||A.J. Pierzynski||15-Day DL||Strained right oblique|
|April 20, 2013||Nick Tepesch||Day-to-Day||Left game - right arm bruise|
|April 11, 2013||Justin Miller||60-Day DL||Recovery from right elbow surgery|
|April 07, 2013||Matt Harrison||15-Day DL||Inflamed nerve in lower back|
|April 07, 2013||Yu Darvish||Day-to-Day||Left game - blister|
|March 24, 2013||Neftali Feliz||60-Day DL||Recovery from right elbow surgery|
|May 07, 2013||Josh Reddick||15-Day DL||Sprained right wrist|
|May 07, 2013||Josh Reddick||Day-to-Day||Sore right wrist|
|May 06, 2013||Jarrod Parker||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained neck|
|May 01, 2013||Brett Anderson||15-Day DL||Sprained right ankle|
|April 30, 2013||Chris Young||15-Day DL||Strained left quad|
|April 30, 2013||Coco Crisp||15-Day DL||Strained left hamstring|
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Sure, it's the Texas Rangers in town. The very team the Oakland Athletics rallied to beat in Game No. 162 last October for a stunning sweep to steal away the AL West crown from the two-time reigning AL champions.
The opponent hardly mattered Monday night. Oakland needed to bounce back and win.
Yoenis Cespedes and Brandon Moss hit consecutive home runs in the third inning, A.J. Griffin matched his season high with eight strikeouts and the A's beat the Rangers 5-1 to start an important stretch on the heels of a really rough one.
This marks Texas' first trip to Oakland since losing those final three games of the 2012 regular season to give away the division title to the surprising A's, whose latest victory ran their home winning streak in the rivalry to five.
"It was big. It was welcomed," said manager Bob Melvin , sporting a bright yellow Golden State Warriors T-shirt under his uniform. "It just felt like we were back in sync."
Back home, Oakland looked refreshed after losing six of seven on a 3-7 road trip through New York, Cleveland and Seattle. The A's avoided dropping a season-low two games below .500 for the first time since Game 2 on April 2.
Griffin (4-3) went seven innings and didn't walk a batter for the first time this season, earning his second victory in six outings since he won back-to-back appearances to start the year.
Mitch Moreland homered to give the Rangers the lead in the second, then Eric Sogard and John Jaso hit RBI singles for the A's in the bottom half.
Griffin faced either the minimum or one more batter in each of his final five innings, helped by a pair of double plays. He improved to 3-0 in four starts against division opponents.
"It's the best start command-wise I've had in the pros, in the major leagues," he said.
The right-hander got a scare when he ducked out of the way of Adrian Beltre 's sharp single up the middle leading off the seventh, and the pitcher patted his hand on his pounding heart once back on his feet.
"He was keeping the fastball down and making good pitches," Texas' Elvis Andrus said. "There was nothing more we could do. His breaking ball is really slow and it's not that easy to adjust to so many mph lower than his fastball."
Next, Sean Doolittle came in and struck out the side in order on 12 pitches in the eighth.
Cespedes hit an 0-1 pitch just over the center-field wall above leaping Leonys Martin in the third. But the Cuban slugger came out of the game in the top of the fifth with a stomach bug.
"It came on during the game," Melvin said. "He threw up a couple times in the bathroom. They're calling it a stomach ailment, they don't think it's a stomach virus. They think he should be in good shape to play tomorrow."
The Rangers (24-14) arrived in the Bay Area having won seven of nine and began the day with the best record in the majors, but again ran into their division nemesis.
Oakland became the first team in major league history to win a division or pennant after trailing by five games with fewer than 10 to play, beating the Rangers in the regular-season finale. Oakland trailed by 13 games on June 30.
"We're not in here for any revenge," Rangers manager Ron Washington said before the game. "They beat us, we understand that, but there's nothing we can do about that. ... I'm not coming up in here thinking about what happened in the past. Learn from that, but that certainly isn't fueling us. What's fueling us is we're healthy and we're playing good baseball, that's it."
The Rangers had their four-game winning streak snapped. They haven't won five in a row since June 26-30 last year.
Texas righty Justin Grimm (2-3) lost his third straight after receiving one extra day of rest between outings. He gave way to Joseph Ortiz after plunking Daric Barton to begin the sixth. Ortiz immediately allowed Derek Norris ' double.
Moss struck out on four pitches to start the second after fanning four times on 14 total pitches in a 6-1 loss at Seattle. Then, he connected for his sixth home run with a drive to nearly the same spot as Cespedes moments before. It marked the second time this season the A's hit back-to-back homers, also done by Jed Lowrie and Chris Young on April 3 against Seattle.
Moss' homer was the 7,000th in Oakland history. Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson hit the first on April 10, 1968.
NOTES: Rangers RHP Colby Lewis , a former A's prospect who had surgery last July to repair a torn flexor tendon, was examined by team doctor Keith Meister in Texas and diagnosed with mild tendinitis in his triceps. He is scheduled to throw again this weekend in Arlington and pitch his next rehab outing for Double-A Frisco as soon as Monday. ... Oakland Gold Glove RF Josh Reddick is yet to swing a bat to test his injured right wrist, but hopes to do so soon. There is no tear, so he is encouraged he can avoid surgery, which he had on the left wrist two years ago. ... A's CF Coco Crisp (strained left hamstring) ran, hit and shagged flies. If all goes well, he will be activated from the disabled list Wednesday. Fellow OF Chris Young (strained left quadriceps) went 1 for 5 with a home run in an extended spring training game, but didn't feel that good. He is set to play again Tuesday. ... Announced attendance was just 11,030, a far cry from those lively sellouts to end last season.