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GAME OF THE DAY

Oakland Finally Applies the Clincher

September 27, 2006|From the Associated Press

SEATTLE — After three days of waiting, the Oakland Athletics finally popped the champagne.

Nick Swisher and Milton Bradley each homered in a four-run second to back Rich Harden's five shutout innings, helping the A's clinch the West Division title Tuesday night with a 12-3 victory over the Seattle Mariners.

The win, combined with the Angels' 5-2 loss against Texas, gave Oakland its first division title since 2003 and the 14th in franchise history. The small-budget A's are back in the playoffs after a two-year absence thanks to a sensational second half -- a hallmark for this club in recent seasons.

Next up, the A's will try to advance to the AL championship series after four first-round exits from 2000 to 2003.

Harden (4-0) was staked to an early 5-0 lead. Making only his second start since June because he was on the disabled list because of an elbow injury, the right-hander showed he's ready for the playoffs, giving up only two singles and striking out five.

Harden hit 97 mph on the stadium radar gun in the first inning and struck out three consecutive batters in the third and fourth. A's Manager Ken Macha wanted Harden limited to 75 pitches, and he finished the fifth inning, getting Willie Bloomquist to line out to center field on his 76th pitch.

Meanwhile, Oakland's tepid offense -- next to last in the AL in batting average at .259 entering Tuesday -- battered Seattle starter Jake Woods.

Frank Thomas, who has 38 homers after the A's got him at a bargain with a one-year, $500,000 incentive-laden contract, lined an RBI single in the first to score Jason Kendall. Swisher led off the second by hitting a 1-and-2 pitch from Woods into the A's bullpen in left for his 34th homer.

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