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Playoff Baseball Started Tonight - Donaldson's Defense, Cespedes' Homerun, and Everyone's Pitching Lift A's Over O's

Just in case you forgot this is mid-September, and half of the AL is locked in an exciting pennant race, this game served as a reminder to everyone that October, she is a'coming. In what was a premier battle of two playoff-worthy teams, two pitchers locked up in a high-stakes pitching duel, while the defenses pulled out all the stops, and the bullpens shined. Baltimore is not Anaheim, the A's were lucky to get the runs they did before the 'pen shut the offense down. Likewise, Neshek, Cook and Balfour picked up where Tommy Milone left off and held the Orioles and their power-hitting lineup to just two runs. The box score will tell you that one run was unearned, but you watch the play for yourself that pinned an error on Donaldson, who was the defensive star of the game. Both runs should have been earned. But I digress. The A's won the game for two reasons: Yoenis Cedpedes' homerun was a 2-run job, while the Orioles' Chris Davis' was a solo, and believe it or not, the A's turned a double-play in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings. The 3-2 game, in front of easily the best, loudest, most electric crowd of the whole season--if not the last six years--played just like an October classic, and if you aren't loving baseball right now, you probably should just go watch football. The A's gave the crowd all it could handle, just the right amount of offense, defense, pitching, and postseason drama; it was perfect, and I hope the crowds come back for the rest of the homestand.

Milone didn't have a lot of one, two, three innings (he had exactly one), but he danced around well enough to win the game, and after the bullpen locked it down, he became a 13-game winner as the "veteran" of the pitching staff. Milone allowed a two-out double in the first, nothing in the second, and he started the third with a lead-off single. This wouldn't have cost him a run except that the next batter flew out to left-center. Both Cespedes and Crisp could have caught the ball as they came together, but Coco took charge and made the catch. The catch was all well and good, but the problem with this decision is that one fielder has a cannon; the other has an arm best suited for shot put. Rookie Manny Machado wisely took second base on Coco's arm, and consequently scored on a two-out laser to Josh Donaldson, that caught him in-between hops, and smashed into him before taking off to left field. He should really appeal that error. But nevertheless, the run scored, and the Orioles held a 1-0 lead.

Donaldson started a double-play that ended the fourth inning for Milone after he allowed a leadoff walk, and the A's finally got on the board in their half of the inning. After Gomes singled to lead off the inning, Cespedes, sore wrist and all, blasted a homerun over the fence, just to make the full house go crazy as the A's took the 2-1 lead. The lead wouldn't last long as Chris Davis greeted Milone in the fifth with a game-tying homerun, but it was Stephen Drew who started the double-play that prevented further damage.

The A's made the least of their golden opportunity in the fifth, but it would be enough. Rosales led off the inning with a double (incidentally, he was pinch-hit for later by Pennington, and looked quite insulted. I can't say I blame him), and Coco singled him to third. Gomes singled him in for the RBI to take the lead, leaving runners at first and second with no one out. Josh Reddick absolutely smashed the ball down the line, but it was caught at first base, and Gomes was doubled up. I feel that was the baseball gods taking a little karma back from the A's double-plays. I'll take it.

No one would score again in the game, but Josh Donaldson turned the A's third double play in the sixth, and Drew turned his second--the fourth of the game--in the seventh. Donaldson should also lead off SportCenter with his bare-handed pickup and perfect throw to first to nail a runner during Cook's perfect inning. Grant Balfour scared everyone by allowing a leadoff single in the ninth, but he then struck out Endy Chavez, got Reynolds to fly out (thank you night baseball and nice, big ballpark with deep fences!). All that was left between the A's and their 83rd win was Chris Davis. Inexplicably, during his at-bat, the runner took off, and Derek Norris pounced on his chance to throw out the runner to end the game. The team, the crowd, me...all reacted like it was a walk-off, much dancing and screaming ensued as the A's climb back to 22 games over .500, and make up with Miss .576.

The only thing that wasn't perfect on the night was the utter lack of help in the AL West; both the Angels and Rangers won tonight, so the A's just keep pace there, and the Orioles remain in first place as the Rays beat the Yankees. However, the A's are two games over both the Yankees and the Orioles, and 4.5 over the Angels and 5 over the Rays. That is the lead they need to keep to go to the playoffs. Eighteen games remaining.

We do it again tomorrow; 6:05 start, Parker vs. Britton.