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Must C Clinch: A's clinch back-to-back AL West titles

OAKLAND -- The A's wrote this script without all the drama of the last one, but it's turned out to be just as riveting, with potential for an even sweeter ending.

In anticipating the sequel to be longer than the 2012 original, the A's know plenty of work remains to make that happen. For now, they pause. And celebrate.

On a cloudless Sunday afternoon at a roaring Coliseum, the A's experienced the thrill of securing yet another American League West title in front of a home crowd, their second in a row and 16th overall. Only the Yankees (18) and Braves (17) have reeled in more division championships.

Oakland technically did it by virtue of a Rangers loss, which was finalized in the third inning of the A's matinee with the Twins. But that didn't stop them from finishing the task at hand, which the A's did by way of another outburst against Minnesota, this time by a score of 11-7 to put a bow on a four-game series sweep.

Champagne flowed, dreamy visions of their postseason future blurred only by foggy goggles. There was dancing, mostly by A.J. Griffin. And plenty of hugs.

"We weren't going to take it easy, even with the Rangers pretty far behind," said Josh Reddick, wearing his gold robe. "We know how far back we were last year and how easy it can be taken away."

The low-budget A's were five back with nine to play last year, stealing the division on the final day of the season from the Rangers, who are now barely hanging on in the Wild Card race despite leading the AL West by three games on Aug. 30. Oakland has gone 18-5 since then.

They're no longer the comeback kids.

"From what I've read and seen, even though you try to keep out of it, everyone still picked Texas and L.A. to take it and us to finish third this year," said Derek Norris. "Last year maybe was more dramatic, with everything coming down to that final game, but I think this just proves we're here to stay. We're not going anywhere. We got this division two years in a row now, and we're hoping to make it three, four and more. You don't come by this stuff every day. It's something to be treasured, and something you're going to remember."

"It's a little bit different than last year," said manager Bob Melvin. "When we won this thing, we were really happy about being here. That's the case as well. You have to enjoy these things, but I think a little bit different mindset after winning this that we've got some unfinished business, and we feel as a group we've got some more to achieve."

In keeping with their predictable second-half formula, the A's relied on the long ball to lock in a win Sunday, tallying one apiece from Coco Crisp, Daric Barton and Jed Lowrie on this clinching day that also helped their chances of securing home-field advantage in the AL Division Series.

Current standings say the A's, 1 1/2 games behind Boston for the best AL record, are primed for a rematch with the Tigers in the ALDS, which culminated with Oakland dropping Game 5 last year. This year's A's, after totaling winning records in every single month, are seemingly prepared to go further.

Consider this an improved offense. The A's are averaging more than six runs in the month of September, largely due to their growing habit of hitting home runs -- and lots of them. Oakland has a Major League-leading 82 since the All-Star break.

Crisp's three-run shot highlighted Oakland's six-run second inning against Twins righty Cole De Vries, who issued three consecutive two-out walks in advance of Eric Sogard's two-run single that preceded the long ball. Josh Donaldson, showered with "M-V-P!" chants throughout the day, also contributed with an RBI single. He has reached base safely in 27 consecutive games.

It's hard to imagine these A's cementing another division title without Donaldson, or even Lowrie, whose fourth-inning solo shot off right-hander Shairon Martis gave him 14 on the year. Crisp, too, has been a significant piece, so it was fitting that he officially became a member of the 20-20 club -- he hit his 22nd homer in the second inning and stole his 20th base in the sixth -- on this already momentous day.

But there's no denying Oakland's most prized possession is its pitching staff. Homegrown product Sonny Gray, barely two years removed from Draft day, was on the mound Sunday, and the 23-year-old got through five innings, despite allowing four runs, to become the youngest pitcher to win an A's clincher. Vida Blue (1973), Mark Mulder (2001) and Rich Harden (2006) were all 24 when they did it.

"It was special," Gray said. "It was probably one of the most nerve-wracking starts that I've had, just knowing what's at stake. You want to do so much for the team and so much for the fans. You want to win this game."

"We win with 25-plus guys we have here," Melvin said. "We don't win with three or four guys."

That mentality was on display in the sixth, when Opening Day starter Brett Anderson took to the mound in his newfound relief role, one that could pay dividends for Oakland in the playoffs.

The ALDS is set to open on Oct. 4. No matter what happens before then, the misfit A's are likely to enter as underdogs -- again. Just how they like it.

"We don't have the big payroll, we don't have the big names for the most part that other teams have, but we win," Anderson said. "We have an awesome starting rotation from top to bottom, regardless who's in at the time, and a lineup that's tough to contain because we don't keyhole one guy. It's a solid team that comes to the ballpark every day to play for each other."

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