The A's are back where they've showed they belong throughout the first 72 games of the season — following Oakland's 4-2 win and San Francisco's loss today, the Athletics are now in sole possession of Major League Baseball's best record.
In a nice (and literal) change of pace from Monday and Tuesday, today's game finished up in a relatively zippy two hours and 50 minutes, thanks to solid Oakland pitching and just six total runs, as compared to Monday's 22 and last night's 16.
Most of that solid Oakland pitching came from Sonny Gray, who had looked somewhat shaky in his past few starts, even though he continued to post above-average numbers. Gray was sharp from the beginning today, retiring the first eight batters he faced. His fastball touched 96 mph, his curve was as filthy as it tends to be; once Gray got out of the first inning (which he's had trouble doing recently) it was clear he'd be able to give his team a quality start and then some.
The A's gave their starter a cushion to work with in the bottom of the 3rd, when Craig Gentry led off with a single and scored immediately thereafter on a line-drive double to the gap in left-center field from John Jaso, who always seems to come up big from the leadoff spot. Jaso later scored on a single from Josh Donaldson, who showed further signs of breaking out of a discouraging, extended slump on the heels of the now-infamous Manny Machado incident on June 7 in Baltimore. Donaldson went 2-for-4 today, and his batting average is back above .250 (it's at .254, to be precise), where it will remain for the rest of the season is Donaldson continues to find himself.
Gray faltered once he had a lead, though, allowing a one-out single to Shin-Soo Choo. Adrian Beltre followed with a booming line-drive to left field, one that Yoenis Cespedes handled with an impressive leaping catch after making a quick read on the ball, turning and positioning himself in front of the State Farm sign below the out-of-town scoreboard. Alex Rios doubled to right field, but Choo was unable to score from first base, where Gray stranded him by striking out Brad Snyder.
The Rangers did get on the board in the top of the 5th, which Gray began by alternating outs and walks. After issuing free passes to Rougned Odor and Leonys Martin, Elvis Andrus beat out a ground ball to third base, loading the bases for Chin-Soo Choo. He singled on a line drive to the left side, scoring Odor and Martin. Gray quickly slammed the breaks on Texas' rally, though, getting Beltre to fly out to Gentry for the third out.
Oakland wasted no time in re-taking the lead. With one out in the bottom of the 5th, Cespedes singled, Brandon Moss doubled, Donaldson singled, and Stephen Vogt hit a sacrifice fly to left that allowed Moss to exploit Choo's relatively weak arm — just like that, the A's led by two.
Sonny Gray finished his outing after a solid seven innings, allowing six hits and two walks while striking out seven, before turning things over to the bullpen. Bob Melvin used the two relievers who've established themselves lately as being the go-to guys for high-leverage situations, and they didn't disappoint. Luke Gregerson threw a 1-2-3 8th, Sean Doolittle did the same in the 9th, and the A's walked off the field with a series win and the best record in baseball.
Alberto Callaspo continued his red-hot start after the birth of his son, his 2-for-4 afternoon leaving him with eight hits in just 11 at-bats for the three-game series. It's very reminiscent of Mark Ellis and the birth of his son, Briggs; Ellis went 8-for-12 in his first at-bats of fatherhood back in June 2007.
Josh Donaldson, too, put together several good at bats and picked up two hits to show for it. Prior to today's contest, the A's were 5-5 in their last 10 games. While it's impressive that they can play .500 ball with out the man who's about to become the first A's player in a generation to start an All-Star game, they could obviously use Donaldson's bat in the mix, so his mini-resurgence is extremely encouraging.
Also encouraging was today's crowd of 23,175 (along with Tuesday night's 21,288) — while neither number will ever be anything to write home about, the A's cracking 20,000 for a pair of weekday games at the Coliseum is a far cry from what the attendance would have been two or three years ago. Also consider that this series is sandwiched between sets against the Yankees and Red Sox — all three games against New York were standing-room crowds of 36,067, and the Red Sox series should see a few crowds in excess of 30,000, along with a likely sellout Sunday afternoon. Usually big weekend crowds translate to especially empty ballparks during the week, so these numbers are all the more impressive.
The A's will pick it back up tomorrow night against Boston, with Scott Kazmir taking on Jake Peavy in a 7:05pm start at the Coliseum.