Oakland welcomes Texas without dwelling on past

Published: Tuesday, May. 14, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Friday, May. 17, 2013 - 5:11 pm

OAKLAND – Playing out the end of last season with the last-place Seattle Mariners, now-A's catcher John Jaso said he didn't follow the drama atop the American League West in the season's final series with much interest.

"But I can tell you I wanted the A's to win," Jaso said.

The A's, of course, entered that series knowing a sweep of the Texas Rangers at home would lift them to the division title, which had seemed most improbable when they trailed by five games with nine to go.

"I liked playing against the A's, and the whole underdog thing was there and everything," Jaso said. "I played with the Rays, so we were the underdog, didn't have the high payroll or anything like that, and we went to the playoffs. … I was happy to see them come out on top."

The underdog narrative climaxed on the last day of the season with the A's wresting the division from the Rangers, who returned to the Coliseum for the first time since last October to begin a three-game series Monday.

Right-hander A.J. Griffin started for the A's, as he had in Game 162 – though before a crowd that paled in comparison to the capacity groups that roiled the Coliseum throughout that final homestand – and against a Rangers team no longer featuring Josh Hamilton, whose dropped fly ball in center field was a pivotal moment in that A's 12-5 win.

Following a 3-7 trip, and returning home with a losing record, the A's weren't feeling very sentimental.

"We obviously had a good series last time they were here. But they're a different team, and they're playing really well, and we need to start playing well again," Brandon Moss said.

"How it happened, it was kind of one of those storybook endings," said third baseman Josh Donaldson. "It was nice. But that's over."

The trip, with losses in six of their last seven games, left the A's (19-20) six games behind the Rangers in the West before Monday's 5-1 win.

Texas' offseason seemed to draw more attention for its departures – including Hamilton, Michael Young and Mike Napoli – than its acquisitions. But the Rangers had raced to the best record in the American League as of Monday while also posting the league's lowest ERA.

"I'm not coming up in here thinking about what happened in the past," Rangers manager Ron Washington said before Monday's game. "What's fueling us is we're healthy and playing good baseball, not that Oakland swept us.

"When you start playing for revenge, you forget and you don't see what's in front of you."

Washington, a former A's coach, said he has "no over-emotional feelings about those three games – it's three games." He did say the crowds that weekend were "definitely" the most spirited he has seen in Oakland since taking the Rangers job in 2006.

"I think we know that they can get very animated here when they have a reason to, and last year they had a reason to," Washington said.

"Are the crowds still huge now?" he added. "They love a winner here, no doubt about it."

The A's were 20-19 through 39 games last season and had yet to go through a nine-game losing streak and a series loss to the Rangers that had them 13 games out of first place on June 30. That they stormed back in the second half, manager Bob Melvin said, is one reason not to panic about being a game under .500 in mid-May.

"But you don't want to fall back on that crutch, too, because then you say it's no big deal and you find yourselves 10 games back again, and to be able to duplicate that is difficult to do," Melvin said. "We need to play with some urgency … and not put ourselves in a position where we have to do that again."

Melvin said that makes the streaking Rangers an ideal opponent for his team right now. And unlike some of his players, he cited the memory of that final series as "something you should always hold with you – knowing that those things could potentially happen.

"Sure," Melvin said. "When you're not playing great, you're always looking for something positive to draw from."

Call The Bee's Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. Read his Bay Area Baseball blog at blogs.sacbee.com/bay-area-baseball/. Follow him on Twitter @matthewkawahara.

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