Blalock's homer ties it in ninth, but A's top Rangers on Buck's hit in 11th

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Oakland manager Bill Geren is still having fun, even though there is no way the young Athletics can have a winning record.

Travis Buck hit an RBI single in the 11th inning and the A's beat the Texas Rangers 4-3 Monday night to move into second in the AL West.

Oakland has won four straight and eight of nine.

"I love it. The guys played to the end. They never quit," Geren said. "We want to finish strong. We're showing we can win some games. It carries over."

Cliff Pennington, one of four rookies who have become regulars in the past month, led off the 11th with a double off Luis Mendoza (3-8). Pennington scored on Buck's one-out single by beating the throw home by right fielder Nelson Cruz.

Oakland's victory ensures both teams will finish with losing records. The A's (75-81), who will play 161 games because a rainout at Baltimore will not be made up, hadn't been in second place since July 24.

"It would really mean a lot to us as a team," said rookie starter Greg Smith, who allowed two runs over five innings. "To come back and finish strong and be the second-place team, we'd get something out of it."

The Rangers (75-82), who lost their fifth straight game, forced extra innings when Hank Blalock led off the ninth with a homer. Texas has had one winning record since winning its third AL West title in a four-season span in 1999.

"We wanted to do better than .500," manager Ron Washington said. "I'm very disappointed."

The Los Angeles Angels clinched the division title Sept. 10, and have a 22-game lead over Oakland after a 2-1 victory at Seattle on Monday night.

Blalock's ninth homer came off Brad Ziegler, who entered with a microscopic 0.78 ERA in his first 45 appearances. Pinch-hitter Frank Catalanotto's two-out triple into the right-field corner chased the right-hander, who pitched in his fourth straight game.

"I felt good enough to get outs. I made the one bad pitch to Blalock and he took advantage of it. It was a fastball away," said Ziegler, who added he would be ready to pitch again Tuesday if needed.

When told Geren had already said the reliever would get a break, Ziegler acknowledged, "That's good to hear."

After Ziegler left, pinch-hitter Gerald Laird lined out to third on the first pitch from Alan Embree (2-4).

"When I hit it, I said `Yes!' Then I looked up and I was out," Laird said.

Santiago Casilla worked the 11th for his second save, despite allowing a leadoff single to Blalock.

Ryan Sweeney had a two-out single in the third, then scored when Jack Cust's liner slipped under the glove of sliding left fielder Marlon Byrd for a double to put Oakland up 3-2.

Cust struck out twice to add to his AL-record total, reaching 190 and pulling within nine of the major league record set last season by Philadelphia's Ryan Howard. Cust surpassed Rob Deer's 186 Ks on Friday.

The second strikeout for Cust was Oakland's 1,182nd this season, breaking the team record set in 1997.

Rangers rookie Chris Davis reached in the second on an error by left fielder Aaron Cunningham, who dropped a fly ball near the foul line after a long run to get it.

But Cunningham made up for that miscue. He threw Davis out at the plate, with a perfect throw to Kurt Suzuki, who made the tag and held on through a hard collision that left the catcher sprawled on the ground for several minutes. Blalock had scored ahead of Davis on German Duran's single, tying it at 2.

Cust drew a leadoff walk in the second and scored on a single by Pennington -- a ball that All-Star center fielder Josh Hamilton overran for an error that also let another run score.

Duran had a leadoff double in the first and scored on a sacrifice fly by Milton Bradley.

Game notes
Before Ziegler's rare meltdown, Joey Devine pitched a scoreless eighth for his 23rd consecutive appearance (22 2/3 innings) without allowing an earned run. His ERA is 0.60. ... Blalock went 3-for-5, and is 10-for-18 with four doubles and two homers his last four games. ... Rangers SS Michael Young was back in the lineup after missing the last two games because of a fractured right ring finger. He has never been out of the lineup three consecutive games.