Do you know the very best thing about baseball? One day, you can have have the most devastating, horrific, painful, brutal loss; the one you never think you will get over, and yet; you have less than 24 hours to dwell on the "what if's" before you have to take the field for another game. The A's and more importantly, Grant Balfour, bore no resemblance to the team that was playing in the ninth inning yesterday; this was a brand-new closer, and an awfully resilient team. All that to mention, the A's have won four out of five, and beat Sanchez, Verlander, Fister, and David Price in the process. This is playoff baseball at its best, and the A's have finally shown up to the party.
Tonight's game starred Jarrod Parker as the A's ace, and but for a rocky 8th inning, he would have had another dramatic win. But even with the no-decision tonight, he has 17 consecutive starts without a loss, joining elite company in A's history. Kurt Suzuki threw himself a little welcome home party for the fans, as his home run accounted for nearly all of the A's runs, Jed Lowrie knocked in the winning run, and made the play of the night to save another Rays' rally, and Cook battled through the eighth inning to keep the game at a tie (he would be awarded the much-deserved win). Then Grant Balfour tested his short memory by taking the mound again--this time with only a slim one-run lead--and saving the game.
The A's found themselves down early in this one as a one-out walk in the second, a stolen base (the call could have gone either way), another walk, and a single plated the first run of the game, but from then on, Parker would keep the Rays off the board until the eighth inning. Jarrod Parker's importance this season absolutely cannot be overstated. He's the only pitcher who hasn't struggled in the dog days of summer; he's fantastically consistent every time out, and he's held the team together, even when it seemed like nothing would.
Meanwhile, the A's offense bested David Price with one swing of the bat, and a little help from the Rays' defense in the fifth. The Rays' second baseman, Ben Zobrist, hasn't made an error in 81 games, but he threw a fairly routine ball off the bat of Callaspo into the dugout, allowing the runner to reach base. This would be important as Chris Young put together a fantastic at-bat to earn himself a walk, and to become the second baserunner of the inning. Which means that when Price threw a first-pitch changeup to Suzuki, and he blasted it out of the Coliseum on this special summer night, three runs scored for the A's on the one swing of the bat.
Parker came out to start the eighth inning, the score still 3-1 A's, and he allowed a single and a walk. Cook came in to replace him, and gave up the unluckiest of bloop singles to load the bases. A sacrifice fly brought the score to 3-2, with runners on first and second, when the Rays hit a ball out to center field. Chris Young made a valiant diving effort to catch the ball, but it bounced off the heel of his glove. It did; however, stay in front of him. This would be important, because only the tying run scored on the play; runners were on at second and third with one out. It was at this point that Cook decided not to lose this game. He struck out Jennings and Johnson with help from a called third strike to end the inning (it probably wasn't), but most importantly, the runners were stranded, and the game remained tied. And the A's? They would come right back.
Coco Crisp would single to open the A's half of the eighth, and because he was running to second on the next play, was not doubled up on Donaldson's groundout (Donaldson had two previous doubles in the game), and in scoring position when Lowrie smoked a double down the line. With the A's leading 4-3, Balfour took his place of rage on the mound and after walking the second batter he faced, Jed Lowrie saved the game by catching an errant throw by Daric Barton that could have been a double-play, but very nearly was a disaster, and although the A's only got one out on the play, Balfour would still get the save.
For all of those recent nights when we cringed looking at the standings, losing ground seemingly every time we took the field, tonight will be a nice change. The Twins broke up a no-hitter by hitting two home runs to stun Texas, so the A's gain a full game in the West, cutting Texas' lead to 2 games. Meanwhile, in the Wild Card race, the A's leapfrogged Tampa Bay tonight to take over the first Wild Card, and also gained games on Baltimore and Cleveland. It was pretty much a perfect night, especially coming on the heels of yesterday's despair. The A's have rebounded nicely and will go for the series win tomorrow night; Sonny Gray will take on Alex Cobb at 6:05PM. LET'S GO OAK-LAND!