The Oakland Athletics have faced a lot of tough competition in recent weeks leading up to the All-Star break, the unofficial end of the first half of the regular season (technically the first half ended after the first game of the Cardinals series on June 28th). Since sweeping the New York Yankees with an 18 inning walk off win, the A’s have battled some of the toughest teams in the American and National leagues, and a couple other less talented but still pesky opponents. They had a tough road trip through Texas and Seattle, one in which they went just 2-5, and came home to battle two of the three top teams in the NL Central in the Cincinatti Reds and St. Louis Cardinals. They swept the Reds in a two-game series, and took two out of three from the St. Louis Cardinals who have owned the best record in baseball on a number of occasions. They greeted the Chicago Cubs, and despite getting dominated by soon-to-be former Cub Matt Garza in the middle game, took the series as they headed out on the road. They took to the road once again, and took yet another series from the Kansas City Royals before heading to Pittsburgh where the Pirates are experiencing a very strong season themselves, they won that series as well. They returned home to host the Boston Red Sox, the team with the best record in baseball.
Friday night’s battle against an old AL West rival John Lackey was a tough one indeed. They fell behind as some crucial defensive miscues cost them early, and while they were able to tie the game, some less than encouraging bullpen work coughed up the game in the late innings. Saturday featured yet another dominant start for A.J. Griffin as he threw 8 scoreless innings before handing off the baton to Grant Balfour for the save as the A’s bested Jon Lester on the shoulders of a home run from Derek Norris, and RBI singles from Coco Crisp and Yoenis Cespedes. Then came this afternoon’s game, the mismatch of the weekend as All-Star Bartolo Colon took on Brandon Workman in his first MLB start.
This was the classic trap game, the A’s could not possibly lose this one right? Well, Workman showed just why he was the 2012 Minor League pitcher of the year in the Red Sox organization. He had the Athletics off balance for the first 6 innings, so much so that he didn’t surrender a single hit. It took the blazing speed of Coco Crisp to break up the no-hit bid, and then a mammoth 2-run home run off the bat of should-be All-Star Josh Donaldson tied the game at 2. In an instant, Workman was out of the game and the Athletics had all the momentum. The bullpen held the Red Sox scoreless despite their best efforts to get on the board and retake the lead, and then it was Josh Donaldson who struck once again with a well placed flare to drive in Chris Young and win the game in the 11th inning. This was the 6th walk-off victory of the 2013 season.
Now, as Bartolo Colon, Grant Balfour, and Yoenis Cespedes jet off to New York to participate in the All-Star festivities at Citi Field, the rest of the Athletics will get some much needed, and well earned rest and relaxation. When they resume play on Friday night in Anaheim, they won’t get another day of until August 1st. In that span, they’ll okay the Angels for 7 games, and also play 3-game sets versus the Houston Astros and the Toronto Blue Jays. Every single one of these games is winnable for the A’s, and each series is as well. With the tough schedule they have endured over last month, they have proven that they are one of the elite teams in baseball. They’ve been criticized for fattening up their win total against teams like the Astros, and soon they will have another chance to do more of that. You win the games that are on the schedule, and the A’s have been doing a lot of that in the “first half.”