Home runs, good starting pitching, and good defense win baseball games — it's no mystery. Tonight's victory was gratifying mainly because the A's had all three of those things and still barely hung on, because losing games that you should win, by the book, really sucks. But wins are wins; with this one, the A's improve to 19-19, climb back into 2nd place in the AL West, and saw Jarrod Parker look good today. No, actually. He did. Let's take a look at what went down.
Josh Donaldson started off the scoring in the 2nd inning with a solo home run. He got all of it, sending the pitch over the roof of the Oakland bullpen in the left field power alley. Not to be outdone, Daric Barton destroyed a Maurer fastball in the 4th inning, landing it in about the 8th row of seats in right field and stretching the A's lead to 2-0.
So. Daric Barton hit a home run. And it wasn't cheap, either. He clobbered it. Let's all just pause and reflect for 30 seconds. And prepare for the firestorm destined to destroy AN as a result of Barton's success.
That two-run lead would jump to 3-0 in the fifth, when Seth Smith hit a double on a line drive to the gap in right field, and then scored on a Jed Lowrie single.
Meanwhile, Jarrod Parker quietly no-hit the Mariners through 4.2 innings. It was great to see — his fastball had some good movement to it, his velocity was good, and his changeup was, simply put, nasty. He walked a few batters, but he was keeping the M's from making much solid contact in the early going. I think tonight was a very good sign in terms of him getting back to his old self from 2012. The first hit he allowed, though, was a loud one: a two-run home run off the bat of Kelly Shoppach that shaved Oakland's lead to 3-2.
Parker ended up allowing three hits, walking four, K'ing five, and allowing three earned runs, one of which came from an inherited runner with Doolittle pitching in the 7th.
Derek Norris made the second best defensive play of the game in the 4th inning: with Michael Saunders at first base, he made a fantastic snap throw from his knees to pick of Saunders, who took too large of a secondary lead, and it ended up costing him. Barton did a great job applying the tag, too.
In the 6th, Brandon Moss took Charlie Furbush — a lefty, mind you — deep to right-center field, putting the A's up 4-2. Like all of the A's home runs today, this one was a no-doubter. I'm not that familiar with the recent changes to the Safeco field dimensions, but I'd imagine that the fences being moved in didn't make much of a difference for the A's tonight.
Food for thought about Moss: so far in 2013, he's hitting a paltry .184 at the Coliseum and a torrid .328 on the road. Hm.
Back to the action — in the bottom half of the 6th, Cespedes one-upped Norris for the best defensive play of the evening, chasing a Kyle Seager fly ball to deep left-center field, making the catch a split second before crashing violently into the wall and landing on his back. He held on, though, and instead of facing one out with a runner on second, Parker had two outs with the bases clear.
Melvin used his classic 7-8-9 combination of Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook, and Grant Balfour to finish out the game. In retrospect, it seems that he should've gone to Doolittle at the beginning of the 7th — Parker only threw 85 pitches, but he seemed to get hit pretty hard in the 6th and then in the beginning of the 7th.
Cook was shaky in the 8th, but eventually struck out Endy Chavez with the bases loaded to preserve the A's lead.
Donaldson gave A's fans a decent scare in the top of the 9th. Looking to get Balfour some insurance, he ripped a line drive to left field, but might have hit it a little too hard. Chavez got to the ball quickly and threw a strike to second base from the warning track, where Donaldson was out by about eight feet. Realizing that he had no shot of beating the throw, he tried to stop his slide, but his spikes got caught in the dirt. Donaldson's momentum made him do a flip in mid-air, and he immediately grabbed his right ankle, writhing in pain for a few seconds. He jogged off the field completely under his own power, albeit tenderly, and thankfully later tweeted that he was fine. Losing Donaldson, a great early-season success story for Oakland, would have been devastating.
Balfour had the good fortune of facing the bottom of Seattle's order in the bottom half of the frame, but that didn't stop the M's from making things interesting. With one out, home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez (in my opinion, anyway) missed the call on a 3-2 fastball to Shoppach that got the inside corner, or came close enough. At any rate, Marquez had been calling it all day. Shoppach checked his swing on the pitch, and as someone with a bit of experience umpiring I will admit that a checked swing can make it difficult to call a strike, since the swing is what you initially focus on and if you rule it a no-swing (which it was, in this case), that can lead you to the conclusion that the pitch was a ball despite being in the zone. Okay, tangent over.
Balfour was pissed, but recovered fantastically with the winning run at the plate; he threw three sliders in a row to Robert Andino, who swung and missed at all three of them.
Michael Saunders then put together a great battle and hit an opposite-field single that Smith did a very good job of cutting off, leaving runner at first and second. But Balfour recovered once again, inducing a Kyle Seager grounder to Adam Rosales (who replaced Sogard for defense), getting the A's their first win since last Sunday in the Bronx.
Tonight was a solid effort in general for the A's: the starting pitching, defense, and offense were all there, and like I said, that's what wins baseball games. I still think that we'll see someone other than Sogard and/or Rosales in the middle infield within the next month or so, but God (read: Billy Beane) only knows.
It's good to be back in the win column, huh? Join us tomorrow for a Mother's Day Matinee at 1:10 PM, where baseballgirl has the AN coverage locked and loaded. Maybe the A's can make it two in a row. See you then.