Momentum is a funny thing in baseball. One day, it seems like everything is going wrong and that the opponent has some magical momentum that will carry them to future victories. The next day, your team looks completely back to normal, everything is fine, and the momentum shifts back your way. Did it ever really exist in the first place? In this case, did the A's have to overcome Texas's "momentum" after losing three and a half games in the standings, or was it just a run-of-the-mill three game slump which the team easily bounced back from due to its undeniable talent?
Whatever the answer, all that matters is that Oakland ended their short losing streak by beating the Rangers 4-2. They re-gained a game in the AL West standings, and now lead Texas by 3.5 games with 7 more head-to-head match-ups left.
With the lineup struggling lately, the A's decided to try some new things against red-hot starting pitcher Matt Garza. Texas's new pitcher was on a tear for his last seven starts, posting a 1.06 ERA in 51 innings; included in that run was an eight-inning performance against the A's (while he was still a member of the Chicago Cubs). Coco Crisp got things going right away in the 1st, dropping an absolutely perfect bunt down the third base line for an easy single. Coco has been struggling mightily lately, and it was great to see him mix it up and find a different way to get on base. Eric Sogard followed him by laying down a successful sacrifice, and Jed Lowrie dropped a bloop single down the left field line to plate Coco. Garza had thrown four pitches, and the A's had already manufactured a run with some well-executed small ball.
And then, right when you were getting used to this new offensive strategy, Yoenis Cespedes walked up and drilled a 1-0 pitch to left-center for a two-run homer. Six pitches, three runs.
Those three runs would prove to be all that Oakland needed today, but that didn't stop Athletics Nation from feeling nervous for the entire game (and for good reason). Jarrod Parker was solid, but he wasn't lights-out. He stranded baserunners in each of the first two innings, but gift-wrapped a run for Texas in the 3rd. With one out, he walked Leonys Martin (.329 OBP) and Elvis Andrus (.318 OBP), struck out Ian Kinsler, and allowed the most BABIP-ish hit possible to Adrian Beltre to plate Martin. Beltre's hit was so weak that it didn't even qualify as a duck snort; a hummingbird sniffle, perhaps? It floated just over Brandon Moss's head and landed about 110 feet away from home plate, barely on the outfield grass. 3-1 A's.
Tim McCarver says a lot of dumb things, but he offered a very fair statement on this one: "You might say, 'Well, that was a lucky hit.' The walks weren't lucky, though." His point is valid. The BABIP hit doesn't hurt so bad if you don't walk two OBP-challenged hitters to set up the rally. Fortunately, those would be the only walks that Parker allowed today.
Parker got himself into another jam in the 4th, but escaped that one unscathed. Then, in the 5th, he served up a monster solo homer to Kinsler to cut the lead to 3-2.
In the 6th inning, Martin became the latest opponent to fall victim to the Coliseum sun. Brandon Moss skied a ball to deep center, and Martin lost sight of it and let it drop behind him; it bounced over the wall for a ground-rule double. Apparently, Oakland is some sort of a geographic and/or cosmic anomaly in which the sun that shines on the city is different than the one which shines everywhere else in the world. How else do you explain the amazing failures of the Angels, Blue Jays, and now Rangers, to catch routine fly balls in the last week? These sun-related errors are being chalked up to some sort of home-field advantage for the A's, but I just don't get it. Do they not have the sun in other cities? Marine layer, clear skies, whatever. It's the sun. It's bright everywhere. Wear shades. (Note: Moss was eventually stranded.)
In the 7th inning, the A's manufactured another run with some more small ball. Alberto Callaspo walked to lead off the frame, and Stephen Vogt bunted him to second. Coco followed with a sharp single to right, but it was hit too hard to score Callaspo. With runners on the corners, Sogard laid down a beautiful safety squeeze bunt; Garza fielded it cleanly, but had no play on Callaspo at the plate. Oakland picked up a huge insurance run, and Garza was pissed. As the camera watched him walking back to the mound, he very clearly shouted "FUCKING PUSSY!" at Sogard. I guess Garza doesn't think that bunting is a very respectable way to generate offense. He probably should not reveal this fact to his manager, who orders bunts like there is a minimum per-game quota.
Meanwhile, the bullpen trio of Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook, and Grant Balfour shut down the Rangers for the last three innings, facing only ten batters to record the final nine outs. And just like that, the A's had a tidy, well-earned 4-2 victory.
Some take-aways from the game:
- It was great to see the A's try a new approach to shake themselves out of their team-wide slump. The bunts they laid down were well-timed, well-executed, and very successful. Without those two manufactured runs, this is a 2-2 game which goes to extra innings. I credit Bob Melvin for getting the lineup going in this way.
- Joe Buck and Tim McCarver just weren't that bad. They're still annoying, and it bugged me when they spent the entire 2nd inning talking about A-Rod and the Yankees, but by the end of the game I didn't completely hate the work they'd done. Buck surprised me by pronouncing "Yoenis Cespedes" correctly (McCarver could not duplicate this feat), and McCarver said a couple of very mature, well-reasoned, insightful things. Credit where it's due. They weren't terrible.
- Derek Holland is a riot. He got on the mic for a half-inning and made me laugh for most of the time. The best part was when he was talking about A.J. Pierzynski, who is in his late-30's and nearing the end of his playing career. "Looks like he has a future with you guys. He could be the next annoying broadcaster...to add to the collection." Priceless.
- Matt Garza is kind of a tool. Not only did he throw a hissy-fit when Sogard beat him with a bunt, but he lost his shit when Ryan Cook had the grounds crew come out to fix a giant hole in the mound. I guess that back in Garza's day, you had to pitch with no shoes, in the snow, uphill both ways, and if there was a hole in your landing point then DAMMIT you sprained your ankle and took it like a man. When the ump let Cook take a couple of warm-up pitches to test out the newly-manicured mound, Garza got even more upset. He has officially passed C.J. Wilson as the biggest crybaby in the AL West. (Update: Turns out that Garza is just a straight-up terrible person.)
- Sogard made a really nice play at shortstop in the 1st inning, picking a ball to his right and making a strong throw to first. With the new middle infield dynamic of Lowrie/Sogard/Callaspo, and with Rosales gone, we may see Sogard playing shortstop from time to time, and it was nice to see him hold his own today (although he later blew a play by taking too long to throw to first, allowing David Murphy to beat out an infield hit).
- Vogt got bonked on the noggin on a Jurickson Profar backswing, but remained in the game. Oakland is already missing one catcher due to a concussion (John Jaso), so here's hoping that Vogt is OK.
- Nelson Cruz pulled something in his leg, and eventually left the game. He should have plenty of time to rest that injury after Monday, though.
- Parker was good but not great today. He needed 107 pitches to complete six innings, allowing six hits and two walks while striking out six batters. That's a quality start, but just barely. Damn sight better than his last start, though.
And there you have it. The A's are back in the win column, the Rangers snap their own five-game winning streak, and Oakland's division lead is back to 3.5 games. Perhaps the momentum has shifted back in Oakland's favor. Or, perhaps the A's are just the better team through these first 110 games. I'll let you decide that for yourself.
The A's and Rangers square off in the rubber game tomorrow, with A.J. Griffin facing Derek Holland. First pitch is 1:05pm, and Baseballgirl will have your thread.