Coming into the series, the A's needed to erase the memory of last week's debacle against the Angels at the Coliseum. Mission accomplished. In the type of series that separates the contenders from the pretenders, the A's came up big, winning their fourth straight game with a complete 3-1 dismantling of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
This game had all the feelings of a classic A's-Angels matchup from the early 2000's. Both teams were separated by 2.5 games, and both came in on win streaks. Like many of those games, this was a low-scoring, tight, pitching-dominated contest (the only thing missing was Jason Kendall charging the mound).
The A's will be starting rookies in four out of five rotation spots for the rest of the season. The first rookie, Jarrod Parker, answered the call tonight like a seasoned veteran, putting together a sparking performance, pitching 7 innings and allowing just one earned run on three hits. Perhaps most importantly, he limited himself to two walks against the vaunted Angels' lineup, avoiding the free bases that have been his achilles' heel this season.
The game started auspiciously for the A's with a Coco Crisp triple on Dan Haren's first pitch of the night. His second pitch was a Seth Smith RBI groundout, and quickly the A's had a 1-0 lead.
Even Parker's "earned" run was not even truly earned, as it was helped by a throwing error by George Kottaras on a two-out steal attempt by Mike Trout. The throw was on time and in a decent location, however it was tailing away from Cliff Pennington. Trout, dead for rights, was not only safe, but able to advance to third base on the throwing error, and then driven in by Torii Hunter.
The A's lineup was not world-beating, but they did add on. Brandon Moss hit a solid home run off of Haren in the 5th, his 17th homer in 62 games. He might be the greatest platoon player ever, so far tallying a 153 wRC+ against RHP in 2012. The very next inning, Pennington, perhaps hearing Jemile Weeks' footsteps, launched a line drive home run to right-center, pacing the A's to a 3-1 lead that they would not relinquish.
Ryan Cook pitched a solid 8th inning, pounding fastballs in the zone. Nothing cute there. Grant Balfour slammed the door shut for his 17th save of the season.
If there was a nit to pick about this game, it was the A's failure to hit with runners in scoring position and less than two outs, leaving three on in the 7th inning and two on in the 9th inning. Alright, there was another pesky nit involved in tonight's win, which was Reddick and Cespedes' struggles at the plate. Their slash lines for September: 097/.171/.097, and .147/.143/.176, respectively. They both turned in 0-4 nights; if they get back to their season averages, this lineup suddenly looks very scary. It should be noted that both of them have been playing excellent defense during their slumps, so it's not all bad.
Regardless, we are witnessing an A's team that is 80-60, 20 games over .500, only three games back of the AL West lead, with a 2 game lead over the nearest wild card teams (Baltimore and Tampa Bay), and 1-0 in this crucial 17-game stretch against the AL playoff contenders.
Ladies and gentlemen, bask in the good vibes of your 2012 Oakland A's. Enjoy the feelings of nervousness, excitement, joy and fury accompanying every pitch in September. It's been a long time since we've had this privilege.