It’s really difficult to put into words the way this game played out, but it’s my job so I will try. The A’s entered the bottom of the 9th inning with a 6-3 lead after Coco Crisp rounded the bases on what I will call an inside the park home run that was ruled a triple and an error. A triple and an error does nothing to capture the emotion of that play. Coco Crisp slapped a ball down the right field line that bounced off the curved wall in the corner and got by Torii Hunter, as Hunter chasd 3 run leaded the ball down Coco flew around the bases, scoring without a play at the plate. There was a strange feeling though as I watched Grant Balfour come out to pitch the 9th inning with a newly acquired 3 run cushion. I just had the feeling that those 2 extra runs would be huge, and boy would they.
Grant Balfour has been known to be susceptible to issuing free passes, and when it appears that perhaps he’s being squeezed by the umpire the walks can really start taking their toll. Balfour walked Chris Ianetta to start the inning, followed by walking the frighteningly dangerous Mike Trout. Torii Hunter came to bat and drove a ball up the middle to bring in Ianetta and send Trout to 3rd. Albert Pujols kept the wheels turning with his own RBI single and suddenly the game was back to a 1 run contest with the tying run 90 feet away in the person of Torii Hunter. Peter Bourjos pinch ran for Pujols, meaning a ball in the gap would likely win the game for the Angels, or if he stole 2nd a single might do the trick.
Bob Melvin had seen enough from Balfour, who was obviously incensed at the umpire for his strike zone, and could be seen telling him just what he thought of his work from the dugout. Jerry Blevins came in to face Kendrys Morales in an impossible save situation. But turning Morales around to bat right handed definitely would weaken his bat, and Blevins took him down with a swinging strikeout. That was just the first step in bringing in the slightest glimmer of hope for the A’s. Howie Kendrick came to bat still with the chance to tie the game even without the benefit of a base hit, the A’s set themselves up hoping for the clutch double play ball to escape the 9th. Blevins buckled down, and when he needed it the most got Kendrick to ground sharply to Josh Donaldson at 3rd, he fired the ball to 2nd and the waiting glove of Cliff Pennington, who avoided the rapidly approaching Bourjos and nailed Kendrick at 1st to end the game. Blevins pumped his fist in a brazen showing of emotion, and the A’s pulled a victory out of what looked like a hopeless and losing situation.
Jerry Blevins has gone very much under the radar this year, but without many people noticing he has become one of the most consistent and reliable relievers the A’s have. Guys like Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle, and Grant Balfour may get the most of the press in this team’s bullpen, but there is no telling where this team would be without Blevins’ work. A moment like this couldn’t happen to a better guy, he deserves a moment of glory like this.
Lost in all the excitement of the final inning was the solid outing by Dan Straily. He was on the verge of finishing the 7th inning with a 4-2 lead until Torii Hunter deposited a ball over the wall in left center, Straily ended up lasting 6.2 innings and allowing 7 hits, 3 ER, with 1 walk and 8 strikeouts. His contribution was pretty crucial as he took the place of Brandon McCarthy in the rotation (more on him later). Straily did end up with the win tonight, the second of his young MLB career.
Also on the back burner is the continued hot streak of Brandon Moss who homered for the second straight night, his 18th, and again his homer gave the A’s the lead like it did last night. Many would like to see Chris Carter in there everyday, but when Moss is swinging like this it’s hard to put him on the bench. Yoenis Cespedes also tattooed a ball just to the left of center field on a line to kick off the scoring for the A’s tonight. It was his 17th of the season.
The A’s have reached yet another season high of 21 games over .500, and this one is especially significant because it was the A’s 81st win of 2012, assuring they will not have a losing record now for the second time in the last 3 seasons. Ofcourse if the A’s only win 81 games it will be one of the most horrific collapses in MLB history, so lets not have any of that. This was the A’s 11th straight road victory, dating back to the 2nd game of the series in Tampa Bay. Both the Texas Rangers and the Baltimore Orioles won their games tonight, so the standings will remain the same for tonight.
The A’s have guaranteed themselves at worst a split in Anaheim, and have 2 chances to take this series now. Yet another strong rookie starting pitcher takes the hill tomorrow as A.J. Griffin (5-0, 2.21 ERA) takes on an old nemesis of the A’s Ervin Santana (8-11, 5.21 ERA). Santana hasn’t been effective this year, but seems to be one of those guys who always can have a strong outing against the A’s. They will have to make sure he doesn’t settle into a groove tomorrow if they want to be able to get to him.
Finally, Brandon McCarthy was released from the hospital this afternoon to everyone’s relief. He was in a pretty bad spot there for a couple days, so the fact that he’s recovered enough to be able to go home is wonderful news. He has work to do for sure as he continues the healing process, and won’t be able to take part in any kind of baseball activity for months in all likelihood. He continues to serve as an inspiration for this team, and hopefully he can make his presence felt somehow on this team as they continue to strive for the postseason. As I’ve said before, sending all positive thoughts Brandon’s way, here’s to a speedy and full recovery and hopefully a return to the A’s rotation in 2013.