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OAKLAND

Grant Balfour, quite possibly the best closer you've never heard of, took the groundskeeper's water hose Wednesday, pointed it toward the Coliseum stands and released the latch. Out came the spray with the kind of force police use to control unruly crowds. For maybe the first time in recorded history, people ran toward a high-powered burst of water that would knock them down. They took the hint from the players. A's fans didn't run away. They didn't run for cover. They didn't cower.

"Hell, no, there's no reason to be scared (in a baseball game)," Balfour said. "There is no fear out there for us."

There you have it, the core of it all, where the 2012 A's get their energy, their compass, their confidence. The A's became the American League West champions Wednesday because, frankly, the sound of it didn't scare them. They weren't scared when they trailed Texas by 13 games. They weren't scared because none of them had championship pedigree. They weren't scared when they were told this thing couldn't be done. They kept it simple while everyone else was making it complicated for them. Can't do this, you know. Nuts to think you can.

"I can't explain this without using clich?," said Petaluma's Jonny Gomes, their outfielder/designated hitter.

And this is the clich? "We can do anything as long as we do it together."

That's what Balfour said. Sounds so dull, doesn't it? Play together? Isn't that the oldest line in the world? It is, and this era in which sports fans are stuck on star attraction — big names bring big headlines and big crowds — people lose interest when a team says the best thing it has is unity. Yuck. Come on. The Rangers have Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre. You build franchises around that kind of talent. Unity can beat that.

The A's heard it was impossible to beat the team that has represented the American League in the last two World Series.

Impossible? The way the A's saw it, that means it just hasn't been done it yet. That's all. And with a fury they did it Wednesday. You should have been here. The A's left the Rangers talking to themselves.

Texas manager Ron Washington gave Hamilton a good butt-chewing in the dugout in the top of the fifth after his center fielder dropped a fly ball in the bottom of the fourth, a momentum-changer that one was. Hamilton disappeared in this series, striking out six times. The Rangers left the field outmatched, dispirited and a bit confused about where to go from here.

Remember, the Rangers had been in first place since the fourth game of the season. They felt unchallenged. They claimed ownership of first place and with good reason. What's to worry? The A's? Huh? With five rookies in the starting rotation? With 15 on the team? With their best pitcher, Gio Gonzalez, and their ace closer, Andrew Bailey, traded away in the offseason?

Their third baseman (Josh Donaldson) came to spring training as a catcher. Their first baseman (Brandon Moss) was an outfielder in the spring. Their second baseman (Cliff Pennington) was supposed to play shortstop. And their best left-handed reliever (Sean Doolittle) was a first baseman as recently as a year ago.

Oh, and the A's sent a American League record for strikeouts.

"There's been a lot of adjustments on the fly," said general manager Billy Beane.

Adjustments? This would be like changing a car's oil and filter while the car is going 60. It should explode. The A's should have exploded. But they didn't. They kept going faster. They won 20 of their last 31 games, a .645 clip. The Rangers went 15-16 at the same. The A's passed them as if Texas was standing still.

"I don't think anybody wants to play us right now," right fielder Josh Reddick said.

Why would you want to play a team that has won its sixth straight and eight of its last nine? Why would you play a team that stopped the defending AL champs Wednesday with Evan Scribner. Yes, Evan Bleeping Scribner. Texas had just scored five times in the third, was threatening to run away with the game and manager Bob Melvin put Scribner in the game. This is the rookie who had a 7.07 earned run average last year in 14 innings with San Diego. Who was claimed off waivers by the A's. THAT Evan Scribner came in and allowed two hits, no runs for three innings.

"In baseball," Gomes said, "there is the will to want to win and there is the will of having to win. We've always wanted to win. We've never put that pressure on ourselves of having to."

Instead, they play the game today and they keep stringing themselves along, one game at a time. And one day they wake up and they are in first place in the American League West. On the last day of the season. On the only day of the season, by the way, in which the A's were in first place. And one should know how much Wednesday meant to them.

With the A's taking a seven-run lead into the ninth, Melvin was going to send in a middle reliever to mop up. Balfour already had worked the last four games. He needed the rest. Balfour, however, would have none of it. He refused to sit. He told his skipper he was going in the game.

"I live for that situation," Balfour said. "I want to be out there. I told them I wanted it."

Lest one think Balfour is riding the intensity wagon too hard, that he is the first Athletic to have forgotten to have fun, remember he was the guy who took the high-powered water hose and sprinted back and forth in front of the A's dugout, spraying the wet and grateful fans.

"You can't be afraid of success," Balfour said.

Nor in the celebrating of it.

For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky's blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.