It's a six-exclamation point night, because in case you haven't heard, THE A'S BEAT THE RAYS!!!!!! Backed by a 7-0-7 laser homerun by Jonny Gomes to break a late tie, the Oakland Athletics stormed back to tie the series behind an quality start by Jarrod Parker, continued hot hitting by Josh Donaldson, a hit from everyone in the lineup except for Crisp, a dynamite outing by Ryan Cook, a huge out from Sean Doolittle, and the gutsiest save we've seen in a while from Grant Balfour, who held off the Rays by seemingly sheer will. The A's fell behind, went ahead, tied the game, fell behind, tied the game, and finally were able to score enough to stave off the hot-hitting Rays.
The importance of this win cannot be overstated; this win was the difference between a 3.5 game deficit in the first Wild Card, and a 1.5 difference, and the A's need all the games they can get before they head into the brutal month of September, and the final month of the stretch run. It's a hell of a ride so far, and a really exciting baseball season; and not just for the A's (although, playoffs? PLAYOFFS?).
Parker and the Rays' rookie Moore held almost identical lines tonight; both starters went six innings (Moore started the seventh), they both allowed seven hits, and three runs, while striking out seven. The A's bullpen was just one run better, as the A's ended the game still standing, clinging to a 5-4 lead.
Stephen Drew got a hit in the first for the A's, but was stranded. The A's were retired 1, 2, 3 in the second and the third, and in the meantime, Ben Zobrist homered to give the Rays an early 1-0 lead. Yoenis Cespedes would triple with one out in the fourth, and after Chris Carter walked, Jonny Gomes would strike out for the second out with the runner on third. (Spoiler Alert: You won't be mad at him after the game.) Luckily, the A's have the gritty, clutch-y, smoking-hot Josh Donaldson, who singled to score the run and tie the game. Donaldson didn't settle for one hit, like everyone else tonight; he racked up another 2-hit game, and both would be crucial. Derek Norris was hit by a pitch to load the bases with two outs, and Brandon Moss beat out an infield dribbler to score the A's second run. With Adam Rosales in a 0-2 hole with the bases again loaded, Josh Donaldson attempted a steal of home, but misread the pitcher and was caught in a rundown. I was fine with this; I wish he had a better attempt at it, but with a near-sure out at the plate, I appreciate trying to make things happen in a playoff race.
The Rays would tie the game on a one-out triple of their own in the fourth, which scored on a sac fly, and would take the lead on back-to-back doubles in the fifth, one questionably fair. Parker had a scary moment in the sixth, as he allowed a leadoff single, a two-out walk, and a single, but the really big moment for the A's was the stroke of luck that Longoria had just come back from a hamstring injury, and didn't score on the play. Parker struck out his last batter and kept the deficit at one.
Seemingly energized by this, the A's tied the game immediately on a leadoff double by Donaldson and a double by Norris (that nearly went out). Norris was wild-pitched to third, but Moss, Rosales, and Crisp failed to score him. In retrospect, Moss' shallow fly ball was the best shot, but it's hard to send a runner with no outs. However, I would have, because...Rosales.
With the game tied 3-3 in the eighth, Chris Carter dropped an innocuous two-out single in for a hit, and consequently was on base when Gomes blasted a homerun against his former team. It was awesome. A near-playoff-like moment. Cook, who pitched a perfect seventh, striking out two, pitched to three batters in the eighth, striking out two and walking one. Doolittle completed the strike-out-the-side bit, and we were on to the ninth.
Balfour started the inning with the most ominous of notes; he walked the leadoff batter with a two-run lead, then promptly gave up a double. Cespedes, who still can't play left field and kept us all wondering when management will notice this, bobbled the ball, and the run scored. Runner on second. No outs. Balfour induced a comebacker; hit too hard to throw behind the runner at second, but hard enough to get the runner at first, a groundout to third, and a groundout right up the middle--which played into the A's shift perfectly. Well played, A's.
The A's have a chance for the series win tomorrow at 10:00AM. Morning baseball! McCarthy (6-5) vs. Hellickson (8-8)