Lookin' slim and trim Brett. (David Richard-US PRESSWIRE)

Brett Anderson Dazzles Against Indians

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For the first time since Roberto Hernandez became Roberto Hernandez and not his former name Fausto Carmona, the Oakland Athletics faced off against the talented right hander.  They countered with a starter who also had just recently made his return to the big leagues, but for much different reasons.  Brett Anderson looked like he hadn’t missed a single start in the last year plus as he carved up the Cleveland Indians lineup.  Quite simply he looked like he could’ve gone the distance without allowing a single Indian to reach base, and for the first 4 innings of the game he did exactly that.  It wasn’t until a clearly blown call by 1st base umpire Jerry Meals when Cliff Pennington touched the base before Michael Brantley did that the budding quest for perfection was snuffed out.  No doubt about it the call was wrong, and had the game proceeded without Anderson allowing another hit, let alone another baserunner Meals would’ve joined Jim Joyce in “imperfect” perfect game infamy (You more than likely remember Joyce’s blown call on the last out of Armando Galarraga‘s perfect game bid).  This wouldn’t have been nearly as egregious since it took place in the 5th inning and not the 9th, and Brent Lillibridge eased everyone’s minds shortly thereafter with a double off the wall.  Those were the only tow base hits Anderson would allow though, and only two others reached base via the walk in his 7 shutout innings.

It seems pretty remarkable that a starter of any caliber, not just the ace talent of Brett Anderson would pick up where he left off in his first two starts back in the majors after over a year off.  But in his two starts so far over 14 innings Anderson has allowed just a single run, and that came in his first inning of his first start.  Once he shook the cobwebs loose, he’s been downright nasty.  His curveball shows serious tilt and snap, his fastball is perfectly located with movement, and he’s doing basically whatever he wants on the mound right now.

For the brief time Car… Hernandez was on the mound the A’s were able to square up his pitches pretty easily.  He only pitched 2.1 innings and allowed 3 ER on 4 hits before leaving with an apparent ankle injury.  A Seth Smith sacrifice fly in the 1st after a Stephen Drew single and a Yoenis Cespedes double brought in the first run, Josh Reddick‘s 26th home run of the season brought in the 2nd run in the 2nd inning, and a Chris Carter RBI single brought in the 3rd run after Hernandez had exited the game.  The Indians bullpen put forth a very strong effort that shut down the A’s offense for the remainder of the game, but the A’s behind stellar pitching from Brett Anderson, Ryan Cook, and Grant Balfour made those 3 runs stand up with ease.

Ryan Cook really looks like a different pitcher now that the pressure of closing games is off his shoulders, tonight he looked like the same Ryan Cook who was blowing away hitters early in the season en route to his 22 inning scoreless streak.  His 2-seam and 4-seam fastballs hovered between 95-97 MPH tonight and touched 98 once as well, and his unhittable slider also made its presence felt.  If this is a sign of things to come then Cook will serve as a crucial stabilizing force in the 8th inning.

Just as much as Cook seems relieved to not have the weight of the 9th inning on his shoulders, Grant Balfour seems to thrive on that pressure.  As tightly wound as he gets when he pitches, the big moment seems to bring out the nastiness in his game.  Aside from a 2 out walk Balfour dominated the inning by striking out the side.  He’s shown that he deserved another shot at the 9th inning and right now he’s making the most of the opportunity.

This was a good win for the A’s considering the fact that the Indians are simply not a good team and the A’s needed to start this series off right.  It’s hard to expect to sweep a 4 game series, but its a distinct possibility here.  With the win today and the Rangers’ victory over the Rays, both the A’s and the Orioles have leapfrogged the Rays and now occupy the 2 wildcard spots with identical 70-57 records with the Rays 1/2 game behind.  The Rangers never seem to lose on days the A’s win, so they remain 5 1/2 games behind them in the AL West, still well within reach.  Tommy Milone (10-9, 3.87 ERA) and Zach McAllister (5-4, 3.50 ERA) square off once again in game 2 of this series, Milone was good against the Indians save for one mistake pitch that Shelley Duncan took deep for a grand slam.  He’ll look to avenge that mistake and take some of his 2012 home success on the road to Cleveland.

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