Well, the A’s jumped on the board early in the first with a single by Suzuki, an infield single by Sweeney, M, and a walk to Cust, as the RBI machine Emil Brown came up and did what he does best, giving the A’s a 1-0 early lead. Blanton got himself into jams in the second, as he found himself with runners at first and third with no one out, but he induced the new pitcher’s best friend--a catch-the-line-drive-and-double-off-the-baserunner-at-third play; and in the fourth, where thanks to a tightening strike zone by West behind the plate, the bases were loaded, but Blanton battled back from a 3-0 count to get the final out of the inning, getting a little help from a nice dig at first by Barton. The A’s also turned a nice DP in the top of the fifth as Blanton continued to keep the Orioles off the board.
Blanton's efforts were temporarily rewarded in the bottom of the inning as the A’s finally found the extra bases hit train, at least for a couple of batters. After a triple off the wall by Sweeney, R, Kurt Suzuki blasted his first homerun of the year; Vince’s enthusiastic call reinforcing how infrequent homeruns actually are for this team. A batter later, Mike Sweeney made a bid for the A’s second homerun of the inning, but fell just short, and the A’s had to be satisfied with a 3-0 lead.
After a hard-fought 5+ innings, the wheels finally started to come off for Joe Blanton in the sixth, as the Orioles broke through for two runs, and threatened to score more, but Joey Devine and the A’s defense shut things down, leaving the A’s clinging to a 3-2 lead. Blanton’s line reads better than the sixth inning sounded: 5.2 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 3 SO.
Mark Ellis broke an 0-17 stretch with a single in the sixth, which turned out to be more than just token; he scored on Hannahan’s double to give the A’s an insurance run, but in a rare occurrence, the bullpen couldn’t hold the lead.
Devine mowed down the Orioles in the 7th, but the other Brown loaded the bases with two outs in the 8th, and despite being in a world of trouble, was not replaced until after giving up the lead. Dallas Braden got the K to end the inning, but the A’s were playing from behind for the first time today.
An error opened the door in the bottom of the eighth, allowing Emil to reach base, and after Crosby followed with his first hit of the series, the A’s chose to sacrifice-bunt Ellis, which was a rousing success. The Orioles walked the bases loaded, and after a pitching change came the most exciting at-bat of the day so far, as the Big Hurt came off the bench to pinch-hit. As he grounded out, Hannahan upended the second-baseman to avoid the DP and tie the game, ultimately forcing extra innings.
Braden was sparkling through his first six batters (the end of the 8th, the 9th, and most of the10th), but after running into some trouble with the strike zone during his last couple of batters, he surprised everyone by picking off a runner to end the inning. Spoiler alert: He would get the win.
Fast forward to the bottom of the 10th, two outs, Mark Ellis at the plate again, when all of a sudden, “FAIR OR FOUL - HITS THE FOUL POLE!!!!”
And the A’s win; raising their record to 4-2 on the homestand, and overall to 22-14. Only the Red Sox and the Angels have comparable records in the AL.
In case you missed the early news, Harden is officially back in the A’s rotation, and will be starting on Sunday afternoon in Texas. I imagine many teams would love to struggle with the decision of sending one of five very good starting pitchers into the bullpen, and despite a pretty decent start to the year, Gaudin is the odd-man out, at least for now. The A’s starting pitching is among the best in the league, and it’s about to get better, at least for a start or two (depending on what the over/under truly is for Rich Harden).
I think Gaudin to the ‘pen is the right call for the time being, and it is more of a nod to Smith and Eveland’s starts than a knock on Gaudin’s year. I also recognize, somewhat ironically, that the one starting pitcher absolutely guaranteed a job is also the one with the poorest numbers, but personally, I think the A’s benefit with Blanton as a starting pitcher. No one is expecting him to be the traditional ace of the staff, but he is a veteran pitcher for the team, he puts in his innings, and almost always keeps the team in the game. Consider that in Blanton’s five losses this year, he’s pitched 6 innings, 6+ innings, 8 innings, 7+ innings, and another 7 innings. Those numbers certainly speak more to the lack of offense (or defense) behind him than his pitching ability, and it’s not his fault that he’s a number 2 or 3 starter being forced into the number 1 role (including being matched up against other teams’ aces), largely because he’s the only established pitcher who is healthy enough to make every one of his starts. I think Blanton has absolutely met expectations so far this year, and those critical of his W/L record might be well-served to remember the games where the bullpen didn’t hold the win for Blanton. Today was one of those days.
The A’s take the day off tomorrow as they head to Texas for the weekend series against the Rangers; hopefully bringing the offense with them.