Well, obviously, just about the entire story today is Rich Harden, who absolutely dominated the Phillies in a way that few pitchers have the raw stuff to be able to do. Harden had it all working for him this afternoon; he truly had no-hit stuff, and despite racking up eleven strikeouts (a new career high!), he kept his pitch count low enough to pitch eight amazing, stunning, fantastic, brilliant innings to secure his fifth win of the year without giving the bullpen much chance of a repeat performance of his last start. There are not enough words to describe Harden’s stuff today, and it shouldn’t be forgotten that the seldom-seen Bowen was the catcher behind the plate. Harden’s line ended with the win in eight innings, surrendering nothing more than two hits and a walk, and racking up eleven strikeouts while bringing his ERA down to a ridiculous 2.15.
The A’s took control of this game early; Harden pitched a gem of a first inning, and the A’s did something that they don’t often do; get on the board right out of the gate. A walk to Ellis and a big double by Sweeney plated the A’s first run, and a bloop single by Cust brought Sweeney across (it took two tries to tag the plate, but he was still safe). But similar to a horror movie, just as the happy music starts to play, something goes terribly wrong. In this case, Sweeney hurt himself on the play at home, and Rajai Davis was called in to replace him. Sweeney’s unofficial diagnosis was a sprained ankle, but I assume there will be more information to follow. That was the only blight on the day.
Harden was undeterred by the ill-timed injury, and sporting a 2-0 lead, turned the second inning into the very definition of a shut-down. And did it again in the third. And the fourth. And through two outs into the fifth, when after setting down 14 in a row, Harden surrendered his first base-runner of the game on a shallow single. He promptly ended the inning with another strikeout, bringing his total to seven K’s in five innings.
After the hot start, the A’s offense was quieted over the next few innings. They got the crowd going in the fifth, when Bowen opened the inning with a resounding double that nearly got out for a homerun, and after an out, Rajai got on with an infield single, and Cust walked. But Chavy (who looks like he’s hurting) struck out on a full count, and Crosby popped up to end the threat.
Harden seemed unfazed by the A’s inability to score any additional runs, and despite the one walk he issued in the sixth, he kept cruising right along.
In the bottom of the sixth, after obviously deciding that the A’s didn’t want to load the bases again, Carlos Gonzalez hit his second homerun of the season to bring the lead to three.
Harden seemed to like the 3-0 cushion and continued to dominate during the seventh and the eighth, bringing his strikeout total to eleven, and looking every bit the ace of Major League Baseball that many have suspected he could be.
Not to be outdone, the A’s offense put up two more runs in the eighth inning, neatly taking the save opportunity away from Huston Street, and sending the ball to Embree for the ninth with a 5-0 lead.
Games don’t come much neater than this one, and anyone who watched could tell you that minus just a couple of moments, Harden flirted pretty heavily with the no-hitter. He definitely had the stuff today. His pitch count would have allowed him to pitch the ninth, but I applaud Geren’s caution with the secure lead.
So put another series win in the books, as the A’s stay home this weekend to play the Giants, as they try to make up some more ground before heading to Anaheim for another face-to-face match-up with the AL West leaders.
Tomorrow night: 7:05, Eveland vs. Correia
AN DAY TICKET DEADLINE TOMORROW!!!
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