What is there to say about the Oakland A's that hasn't already been said? Their starting pitching is dominant. Their bullpen is lights out. Yoenis Cespedes has a heck of an arm. The lineup can score in bunches. None of this is news to you, but all of it explains how the Athletics cruised to a 5-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles tonight.
The heroes for today's game were Jarrod Parker, for his 7 strong innings; Stephen Drew, for his rally-starting homer in the 3rd inning as well as his rally-suppressing defense throughout the evening; and Chris Carter, for hitting the 2-run double which capped Oakland's 5-run 3rd inning.
The scoreboard was also kind to the A's today. Their victory allowed them to gain a game on the Rangers (who lost to Seattle; Oakland is now 2 games back), the Angels (lost to the Royals; Oakland is now 5.5 games ahead), the Rays (lost to the Yankees; Oakland is now 6 games ahead); and, of course, the Orioles themselves (Oakland is now 3 games ahead). The victory clinched the season series with Baltimore, meaning that if the two teams finish the season tied in any way, then the A's would get home field advantage in the one-game tiebreaker (Oakland also has this advantage against the Angels and Rays). Read on for a recap of the game!
Tonight's game pitted Oakland's Jarrod Parker against Baltimore's Zach Britton. The last time that these two pitchers locked horns, the result was a 14-9 slugfest in which neither team would stop scoring. Tonight, the scoring was finished after the 3rd inning. Go figure.
Baltimore got things started in the top of the 2nd. Adam Jones singled to lead off, and then reached 3rd base when Parker bounced a pick-off throw past 1st baseman Chris Carter. It was a poor throw by Parker, but Carter probably should have at least knocked it down. With one out, Mark Reynolds ripped a double into the left-field corner to plate Jones for a 1-0 lead. With a potential rally brewing, though, Oakland's defense stepped in to cool things down. Manny Machado followed Reynolds by hitting a ground ball to the left side, and shortstop Stephen Drew caught an overzealous Reynolds running to 3rd base a little bit too soon. Third baseman Josh Donaldson executed the rundown perfectly this time, retiring Reynolds while also holding Machado at 1st.
With one out in the 3rd, Nate McLouth homered to right, increasing the lead to 2-0. This was the last happy thought that Orioles fans would enjoy tonight. I suppose that something else in their lives might have made them happy, like a bowl of ice cream or a smiling baby, so perhaps that's not an accurate statement. This was the last happy thought that Orioles fans would enjoy tonight about baseball. That's probably true. Parker would settle down after McLouth's homer and retire 14 of the next 17 batters, finishing with a line of 2 runs on 7 hits in 7 full innings, with 5 strikeouts to only 1 walk. He didn't seem to have his best stuff, but he made big pitches when he needed to and didn't let Baltimore build any extended rallies. He did dig himself an early deficit, but it would pale in comparison to what Zach Britton was about to do.
Zach Britton. Oh, Zach Britton. You really held it together for those first two innings. You can be prone to bouts of wildness, but you only walked one batter, and you even recorded a couple of strikeouts. Things were really looking promising. And now you had a lead! O, to be Zach Britton at the beginning of the 3rd inning. But alas, his was destined to be a tale of tragedy. It began with Stephen Drew. With a 3-1 count, catcher Matt Wieters set up low and away, but Britton's fastball missed up and in, which is pretty much the exact opposite of what he was going for. Drew swatted the mistake to right for a leadoff homer. This is what they call "foreshadowing."
Britton's control continued to fail him, and things started to unravel quickly from there. With one out, he walked Coco Crisp on 5 pitches, and then hit Jonny Gomes two pitches later. The rally was gift-wrapped, and all the A's had to do was open it up. Facing a heavy defensive shift, Josh Reddick poked a grounder through the massive hole on the left side of the infield, scoring Coco to tie the game. Usually, I am not impressed with ground ball singles, but this situation is different. Reddick has been struggling a lot lately with runners on base, and this time it looked like he recognized the hole in the defense and attacked it. The hit wasn't very strong, but that's not important; all he had to do was make contact to the left side, and it was going to go through.
Yoenis Cespedes followed Reddick's hit by bouncing a single up the middle to score Gomes and take a 3-2 lead. Britton was starting to melt down, but so far he was only Mrs.-Doubtfire's-meringue-mask melty. There was still hope, if someone would just turn down the heat. Britton would have no such luck, though. Chris Carter drove a double into the right-field corner, two more runs scored, and Britton's meltdown reached full bad-guy-at-the-end-of-Raiders-of-the-Lost-Ark meltiness. The damage had been done, and the Orioles would not recover from it.
From this point forward, the game became the story of Oakland's defense. Jones reached base again to lead off the 4th, and Chris Davis followed with a double into the left-field corner. Jones tried to score from 1st on the hit, because he's never heard of Cespedes and figured that if the Cuban had an amazing throwing arm then someone would have told him by now. Cespedes rifled a throw in to Drew, who relayed a perfect strike to Derek Norris to nail Jones at the plate. Seriously, American League. Stop trying to run on Oakland's outfielders. It's getting reddickulous.
In the 5th, it was Josh Donaldson's turn to chip in with the glove. Nate McLouth popped a foul ball which would have gone into the 15th row of seats in most stadiums. In the Coliseum, however, Donaldson had enough room to sprint toward the wall just in time to make the catch while tumbling over the rolled-up rain tarp. It was a play that many fielders would have given up on, but Donaldson stuck with it and made an impressive catch. I thought that this tweet from the A's was appropriate:
It's fitting that the only obstacle between @BringerOfRain20 and this great catch was the tarp
Donaldson would strike again in the 6th. J.J. Hardy led off with a sharp hit down the left field line, but Donaldson made a sliding stop, recovered, and threw to first for the out. In the 7th, it was Stephen Drew who flashed the leather. With one out and a runner on 1st, Endy Chavez knocked a grounder which looked like it would sneak through the middle for a hit. Drew just barely got to it in time, but with his momentum taking him into right field, it didn't look like he would be able to get a throw off in time. However, he managed to flip the ball from his glove straight to the outstretched hand of 2nd baseman Adam Rosales, in a move which looked like something that Jemile Weeks would try except for that it worked. Rosales wasn't able to get the throw to 1st in time to double up the speedy Chavez, but just getting the force at 2nd was impressive. More importantly, another potential rally had been snuffed.
Sean Doolittle pitched a perfect 8th, and Grant Balfour came on for the second straight night to finish things off in the 9th. Sensing that the crowd hadn't quite gotten their money's worth yet, Balfour decided to make things exciting. With one out, he allowed a single by Davis, and he followed that by walking Reynolds. With the tying run at the plate, though, he retired Machado and Chavez to end the inning and seal the victory.
Yep, those Oakland A's. Running on all cylinders, I tell ya. Starting pitching, bullpen, offense, defense, everything. Everyone is worried about the tough September schedule, but I say bring it on. If Oakland wants to go deep in the playoffs, then they're going to have to beat teams like the Orioles, Rangers, Yankees, and Tigers when they get there. May as well start now. If they want to win the division, then there's no better way to catch up than with head-to-head games against the division leader.
To be honest, right now I feel like this team can beat anybody. That's fortunate, because from this point on, they pretty much need to beat everybody.
Oakland goes for the sweep tomorrow, as Dan Straily faces...Randy Wolf? The Orioles signed Randy Wolf? Oh, this should be fun. Game time is 1:05pm.