Tonight’s victory against the Texas Rangers had all the makings of an even more brutal gut punch than the A’s suffered in Detroit last month. The A’s pounded Rangers starter Derek Holland for six runs in three innings, and were putting the game in cruise control as they entered the late innings. If there was any doubt that this game was taking place on Friday the 13th, the bottom of the eighth inning put all of that to rest. The Rangers would turn a seemingly insurmountable 9-2 deficit into a 9-8 nail biter that seemed inevitable to turn into a loss for the A’s. All it took was an egregious blown call on a play at third base that went the A’s way to allow them to escape with the lead barely intact. It was ugly as ugly gets, but somehow the A’s held it together just enough to pull out the victory. Now they sit high atop the AL West with a 4.5 game lead and 15 games to play, and are definitely in the driver’s seat going down the season’s final stretch.
A game like this can galvanize a team, and the Athletics have to be feeling good despite the struggles of the bullpen. They picked each other up, and pulled out this victory as a unit.
Derek Holland was clearly off his game from the get-go, and the A’s made him pay almost immediately. A single by Coco Crisp and a walk by Josh Donaldson set up Yoenis Cespedes to deliver the initial blow of this game, a three run home run to left center field to put the A’s up in the first. Cespedes continues his red hot hitting and the A’s would need every single run they would get. The Rangers would bounce back though in the bottom half of the inning against A’s starter Dan Straily, as two walks and a hit led to two runs. This would be a bit of foreshadowing as to how the rest of this game would play out.
Straily would settle down a bit and the A’s would continue to put the hurt on Holland. A first pitch home run to lead off the top of the third, and a two run double in the fourth by Josh Donaldson would put the A’s up by a 6-2 margin. They would add on with a bases loaded walk by Kurt Suzuki and a Coco Crisp sacrifice fly in the fifth, and Brandon Moss‘ 27th home run of the season in the sixth.
Straily would wobbled a bit, despite allowing just two hits in his 5.2 innings of work, he did walk four and struck out four as well. Jerry Blevins and Dan Otero bridged the gap between Straily and the decisive eighth innings with 1.2 innings of scoreless relief. Brett Anderson came on to work the eighth in a mop up role, and that is when things went sideways. Anderson faced two batters, walked them both, then departed the game with what would later be revealed to be back spasms. Jesse Chavez would come out to attempt to clean up Anderson’s mess, but he would spill the dirty water from the mop bucket all over the field. Chavez would record two strikeouts, but would also allow two singles and have to be relieved by Ryan Cook. Cook had nothing, simply put. He walked Ian Kinsler on four pitches to force in a run, and allow singles to Elvis Andrus and Alex Rios to make it a 9-8 game in the blink of an eye. Sean Doolittle was called upon to face Adrian Beltre, and Beltre would single to left field down the line, Rios would attempt to advance to third on the play and would be thrown out by Yoenis Cespedes. Replays showed Rios was clearly safe, and he would argue the call and ultimately be ejected. The A’s weren’t about to decline the lucky break though, and escaped the inning with the lead still.
Doolittle worked the ninth inning, striking out the side while working around a double with two outs for his second save of the season.
It wasn’t pretty, and perhaps the A’s really shouldn’t have won the game in the first place. But sometimes things simply go your way, and tonight they did for the A’s. The bottom of the eighth tonight could prove to be the most important inning in this AL West race, if the Rangers had taken the lead and won, they would trail by just 2.5 games and would have a great chance to pull even closer in the division by the end of the weekend. Now the best the Rangers can hope for is trailing by 2.5 games, and the A’s can ensure a 4.5 game lead as they return to Oakland on Monday with just one more victory in Arlington. Bartolo Colon (15-6, 2.85 ERA) takes the hill tomorrow against Yu Darvish (12-8, 2.84 ERA). The A’s have had Darvish’s number this year, and will need one more impressive performance versus the tough righty to put themselves in prime position to take the division once again.