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Athletics thump Mariners to clinch AL West title

Sep 27, 2006 - 5:16 AM SEATTLE (Ticker) -- The Oakland Athletics finally stopped making things hard on themselves.

The A's hammered out a season-high 18 hits and stomped the Seattle Mariners, 12-3, to clinch the American League West Division title.

Milton Bradley had a three-run homer and Jay Payton and Jason Kendall had four hits apiece as the A's snapped a three-game losing streak, including a crushing 10-9 loss in 10 innings to the Mariners on Monday in which closer Huston Street couldn't hold a three-run lead in the ninth.

"There is nothing like winning," said A's designated hitter Frank Thomas, who was a member of last year's world champion Chicago White Sox. "Like I have been telling these guys, you never know when you are going to get to the next level. So enjoy it."

With the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim losing to the Texas Rangers just minutes earlier, the Athletics could celebrate full throttle when Chad Gaudin retired Ron Rivera on a fly ball to right field for the final out.

"We had a big game against Anaheim on Friday and then we lost three in a row and we were wondering if we were ever going to get this done," A's manager Ken Macha said over the din of a raucous, champagne-soaked clubhouse. "We were ahead, 5-0, and Texas was ahead, 5-0, and the next two hours were the longest of my life."

The A's have won 14 AL West crowns, the third-most division titles in the major leagues, behind the Atlanta Braves (16) and the New York Yankees, who wrapped up their 15th title last Wednesday.

After its customary slow start, Oakland put on its patented late-season rush. The Athletics were 24-29 at the end of May, but went 67-37 since, the second-best record in baseball behind the Minnesota Twins.

"We had depth and we overcame all the injuries," Macha said. "In our bullpen we had six different guys with saves. But that was just a small particle of the team. Bradley was hurt, (Eric) Chavez was hurt and all these guys spent time on the DL, but we were able to overcome it with our depth."

"This is why you play the game," Kendall said. "We had our ups and downs but this right here is worth it all."

Bradley's three-run homer off Jake Woods (6-4) was the big blow in a four-run second inning that gave the A's a 5-0 advantage.

The would prove to be plenty for Rich Harden (4-0), who was making just his second start since June 4.

The righthander allowed just two hits in five scoreless innings, winning his first decision since April 21. The Athletics are 8-0 in games started by Harden this season.

The Mariners did give the Athletics a moment for pause in the sixth when Kirk Saarloos relieved Harden and quickly yielded back-to-back solo home runs to Adrian Beltre and Raul Ibanez.

The A's, though, answered in a big way in their next at-bat. Payton opened the seventh with his fourth hit, a double to center, and scored on Eric Chavez's single. After Nick Swisher hit into a forceout, Mark Ellis doubled him to third and Marco Scutaro plated both runners with a two-base hit to right for a 9-2 lead. He later scored on Kielty's sacrifice fly.

Ibanez offered his congratulations to his AL West rivals.

"Watching them celebrate on the field, that's what you play this game for," Ibanez said. "They deserved it. They came back and had a great run in the second half."

Ichiro Suzuki was not in the lineup for Seattle, ending his club-record streak of 396 consecutive games played, the fourth-longest active run in the majors.

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