A's making third straight trip to playoffs

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- With plastic champagne flutes and a quiet
sense of purpose, the Oakland Athletics toasted their latest trip
to the playoffs -- and vowed to celebrate a few more times this

The fun-loving, small-budget A's clinched their third straight postseason berth on Friday night, with Jermaine Dye hitting a
tiebreaking sacrifice fly in the eighth inning to give Oakland a
4-2 victory over the Texas Rangers.

Oakland's victory and Seattle's 8-1 loss to Anaheim guaranteed
at least a wild-card berth for the A's, who won the AL West in 2000
and got the wild card with 102 victories last season in a run of
success that has defied all conventional wisdom about payrolls and
free agency.

But there was no big party on the Coliseum field or in the
clubhouse -- just a determination to do even more with less than any
team in the majors.

"I don't know if anybody gave us a legitimate shot this year
with the players we lost in free agency, but this is a great
achievement,'' Oakland manager Art Howe said. "We had a little
toast, but they all know we have another goal. If this was the
final goal, we'd be tearing this place up, but we're not.

"Hopefully, we'll get another chance to celebrate. If we do, hold on to your hat.''

After the offseason departures of Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and
Jason Isringhausen, many wondered if Oakland could return to the
postseason. The A's have done much more than return: With the
league's best record at 97-57, Oakland maintained its one-game
division lead over the Angels with eight games left.

If the A's win the division, they would play host to AL Central
champion Minnesota in the division series. If Anaheim (96-58)
surges ahead, Oakland would get its third straight first-round
series against the New York Yankees, who have won the last four AL pennants.

"We made the playoffs, but what did we make the playoffs for?'' Dye asked. "We don't know yet. It's fun to make the playoffs, but we want to win the division.''

Oakland's late rally was keyed by All-Star shortstop Alex
Rodriguez's two errors on the same play. With Mark Ellis on first
base, Rodriguez bobbled Miguel Tejada's grounder for the first
error, then threw the ball past Michael Young into right field,
allowing the runners to advance to second and third. Rodriguez had
made just eight errors all season.

Rodriguez and Tejada both went 0-for-4.

"I don't think it was a good showcase of (potential) MVPs tonight,'' Rodriguez said. "Neither one of us played our best game.''

After Danny Kolb (3-5) intentionally walked Eric Chavez, Dye hit
a long fly ball to deep center, easily scoring Ellis. Reliever Juan
Alvarez then walked David Justice and Randy Velarde, scoring Tejada
with the A's second unearned run of the inning.

Jim Mecir (6-3) got two outs in the eighth for the victory.
Instead of going to closer Billy Koch for the sixth straight game,
Oakland manager Art Howe let Ricardo Rincon pitch the ninth for his
first save.

The A's got their third straight victory with another
late-inning rally, but they had no success against former teammate
Kenny Rogers, who extended his unbeaten streak at the Coliseum to
33 appearances.

Rogers, who has won 17 straight decisions in the
pitcher-friendly park, allowed six hits and struck out a
season-high eight over seven strong innings -- but the Rangers
managed just one hit after the fourth inning while losing for the
seventh time in eight games, all on the road.

Ted Lilly, in probably his last start of the season, allowed
four hits and two runs in five innings before leaving to protect a
blister on his throwing hand. It was the best of the left-hander's
starts since his two months on the disabled list with shoulder
inflammation, but the A's are expected to use a four-man rotation
next week in preparation for the playoffs.

"At this point, I finally feel comfortable,'' Lilly said. "We're all pretty pleased with the way I pitched tonight. I hope I've got a role (in the postseason).''

The A's used four relievers over four scoreless innings.

Oakland went up 2-0 in the third on back-to-back doubles by
Terrence Long and Ramon Hernandez, followed by a run-scoring single
from Ellis. Texas tied it in the fourth on Herbert Perry's RBI double into the gap and Rafael Palmeiro's single.

Game notes
Jason Hart, the former Oakland prospect once considered
Giambi's heir apparent at first base, went 0-for-2 starting in left
field for the Rangers ... Rogers struck out the side in the sixth
inning. ... The A's had gone eight straight games without a double
-- the longest such streak in the franchise's Oakland history -- until Long got one in the third inning. ... Oakland and Texas play six of their final nine games against each other, including a season-ending three-game series in Arlington next weekend. ... The Rangers played their 32nd consecutive game without a day off.
Manager Jerry Narron canceled Friday's batting practice for his
road-weary players, who played four straight extra-inning games in
Seattle earlier in the week.