I was preparing to write about last night’s 10th inning victory in Chicago against the White Sox before some technical difficulties derailed those plans. The little bit I wrote made just one single point. Sometimes when things are going well, like they are for the Oakland Athletics right now, you find yourself coming out on top in games that you really have no business winning. Last night’s dramatic win was one of those nights. Why did I bother to bring this up tonight? Because the Athletics pulled off another one of those wins tonight.
Chris Sale is one of the toughest pitchers in the American League if not all of baseball, and prior to his previous start versus the Athletics in Oakland he had never lost to an AL West team. He suffered a hard luck loss in that game, and took much more of a punch to the gut in losing tonight’s game.
He was cruising along through the first 5 innings, having allowed just 2 hits to the Athletics while the White Sox had posted 3 runs to give themselves what seemed like an insurmountable cushion. The top of the 6th inning was a different story as things began to turn sideways for Sale. Adam Rosales led off the inning with a single, Coco Crisp struck out looking, then Jed Lowrie really put the heat on with a single to move Rosales to third base, this was followed by a 4 pitch walk to Yoenis Cespedes. The A’s had themselves an opportunity to get back in this game with their most productive hitter of 2013 in Josh Donaldson coming to the plate, and boy did he deliver. Donaldson launched a 1-1 fastball from Sale towards the Athletics bullpen in right field and out of the reach of Alex Rios to give the A’s a 4-3 lead.
That would be all the offense the A’s would need to lock down their 38th victory of the year and overtake the Texas Rangers, who lost to the Toronto Blue Jays tonight, for sole possession of first place in the AL West by a 1/2 game. This is the first time the A’s have been in this position since about mid April before injuries and poor pitching caught up with them. Needless to say they’ve rebounded from that down period.
Jarrod Parker was not dominant tonight, but he was certainly effective. In getting his 5th win of the season he pitched 7 strong innings plus faced one batter in the 8th, allowed 3 runs (2 earned) on 5 hits and 2 walks, he struck out 4. He’s righted the ship from his early season struggles now, and it appears as if the mechanical issues he was dealing with are behind him now. Ryan Cook replaced Parker after the single allowed to Tyler Flowers to start the 8th, and he got himself into a little bit of trouble by walking Alejandro De Aza, but retired the next three batters without incident to preserve the lead.
Grant Balfour had his own adventure in the 9th inning that the boxscore won’t reflect. On a 1-2 fastball to Conor Gillaspie that caught a bit too much of the plate, Gillaspie didn’t miss it. Off the bat it appeared as if this game was tied, but Josh Reddick had other ideas. He retreated to the fence, timed his jump, and stole a home run that would’ve meant Balfour’s first blown save in 32 chances since last year. Reddick showed no emotion, and tossed the ball back towards the infield as Balfour saluted his right fielder. The nonchalance of Reddick could fool many as to how huge that play was, but trust me it was massive. Balfour finished off the victory in routine fashion to notch the save, his 15th of 2013.
Both Reddick, Donaldson, Nate Freiman and Adam Rosales should all be recognized tonight for their defensive contributions as well. Reddick’s robbery, Donaldson’s nifty diving stop and full extension diving catch by Freiman while staying on the bag to reel in the throw, and Adam Rosales’ nifty flip to Jed Lowrie to start a big double play that sealed the shutdown inning for Parker in the 6th. Pitching, clutch hitting, and defense is the perfect formula for winning games, and the Athletics are doing it quite well right now.
Donaldson continues his emergence as not just someone who belongs in Major League Baseball, but as one of the better occupants of the hot corner in the game. While Miguel Cabrera is firmly entrenched atop the third base totem pole in the AL, Donaldson’s play puts him right below. At this point, it would be a crime if Donaldson wasn’t elected to the AL All Star team.
The Athletics have ensured themselves a winning road trip, and are now at 38-25 which puts them 1/2 game ahead of the Texas Rangers in the AL West as I noted earlier, it also is the highest win total in the AL and second highest in all of baseball behind the St. Louis Cardinals who have 40 wins. There’s little chance the A’s will maintain this level of play for the duration of the season, but they absolutely should try to rack up as many wins as possible now while they’re hot, and before the tough second half of June arrives.
The Athletics go for the series victory tomorrow in the third game of four, Tommy Milone (6-5, 3.91 ERA) looks to win his 4th straight decision against John Danks (0-2, 5.63 ERA). Danks is just coming off a long stint on the DL after shoulder surgery last year, and has yet to hit his stride so the Athletics will have to make sure to capitalize on his rustiness.