Best start in over 20 years? You don't have to tell the players or fans about it; everyone is talking about the A's as the green and gold have beaten the East Coast media darlings in back-to-back nights and will go for a sweep tomorrow afternoon at the Coliseum. Baseball just doesn't get better than this, as the A's claim first place in the American League West as the little engine that could and its tiny payroll, outdated stadium, and white elephant everything continues to steam right along, leaving the Yankees far behind on the tracks. The A's have won 20 of of their last 25 games, producing a different offense hero every day; the starting pitching staff is hurling guaranteed quality starts every time out, and Grant Balfour is the only closer in the league without a blown save. It's never been more fun in Oakland for baseball than the summer of 2013, on the heels of Fall 2012.
In a night where the lineup was missing its two stars, the A's absorbed the loss of Yoenis Cespedes and Coco Crisp in fine fashion, scoring five runs on the strength of two homeruns by Brandon Moss, and a little bit of small ball, for good measure. The A's lineup took approximately a million pitches during their at-bats, parlaying that patience into nine walks and five runs. The A's left-handed batters took apart Phil Hughes, knocking him out in the fourth inning with an astonishing 95 pitches, and the Yankees relievers fared no better. Brandon Moss, Seth Smith (on base all 5 times!), John Jaso and Eric Sogard as lefties all contributed to tonight's win as the depth of the bench shined for the A's.
Meanwhile, Dan Straily was cool as could be on the mound, mowing down the Yankees in short order. I'm still not sure how he gave up two runs behind three hits, one walk and one hit-by-pitch, but the game was a true nail-biter until A's tacked on some insurance in the eighth inning.
The game started out by making the crowd cry, as tonight's first pitch was thrown remotely from Kansas City. #NicksFirstPitch for those of you on Twitter. And this on the heels of Mariano Rivera and his special delivery to the A's mailroom before the game today. Say what you want about the Yankees, but Mariano is a class act all the way, and I daresay I'm not the only baseball fan who adores him, and thinks the game of baseball will be missing a piece without him.
The game started out on a shaky note for the A's as Sogard made a great play on the leadoff hitter, but threw the ball into the dirt. Jaso alertly backed up the errant throw, preventing the ball from going into the dugout and keeping the runner on first base. Straily would get out of the inning unscathed, as would be par for the course in this one. The bottom of the inning was no less strange; the Yankees dropped a ball of their own, but Smith looked to be token running to second base, sure the ball would be caught, and he was tagged out by five feet.
The A's got on the board in the second inning on a single by Redick and a homerun by Moss. Interestingly, Ichiro deked the runner into thinking that he would catch the ball, and Moss had to take care not to run over Reddick, who had gone back to first base. The clip is hilarious as Reddick scolds Moss with his hands, telling him to keep his own distance.
The A's picked up two more walks in the third; the second walk on an 11-pitch at-bat by Seth Smith. Believe it or not, it wouldn't be the longest--or best--at-bat of the night. Meanwhile, Straily threw six pitches in the fourth, and eight in the fifth, en route to his fourth win on the season.
The A's would tack on an insurance run as Eric Sogard walked to lead off the A's half of the fifth and stole second before Hughes even let go of the ball. Sogard had two walking leads in today's game, and easily collected two steals. He misjudged a Freiman ball, caught by Ichiro, and didn't advance to third base, but it didn't matter, as Jaso hit a hanging slider on an 0-2 pitch for a ringing RBI double off the wall.
Staked to a comfortable, but hey-it's-the-Yankees 3-0 lead, Straily allowed a walk, a single, and a sac fly in the sixth inning for the first Yankees' run, and a hit-by-pitch, wild pitch, ground-out and single for the second Yankees' run in the seventh. Lost in the bigger plays of the game was Reddick's decision not to throw the ball home on the sacrifice fly; instead, he did the smart thing and prevented the Yankees from taking an extra base. Take notes, other outfielders.
Clinging to a 3-2 lead, the A's turned to the much-maligned Sean Doolittle to get Straily out of the inning with the lead. He did. Oh, and he also pitched a perfect eighth. Will this be the game that turns it all around for Doo? Stay tuned.
The A's put a little insurance on the board in the eighth inning as Brandon Moss turned an 0-2 count into an 11-pitch at-bat, taking the count full before blasting his second homerun of the night into dead center field to give the A's, and Grant Balfour, some breathing room. Sogard followed with a one-out single, stole second base, and scored on Jaso's second RBI hit of the day, and as a result, the A's took a 5-2 lead into the ninth.
Because the Yankees are contractually obligated to end all of their games with the tying run at the plate, they challenged Balfour with a two-out walk and a single, bringing up Jayson Nix as the tying run. And because everything in June is coming up A's, Nix grounded out to Balfour for the final out.
It's a win. A series win. Hopefully, soon to be a series sweep as Jarrod Parker takes on Hiroki Kuroda.
Love this team. Enjoy the magic; I bet the Coliseum is like Disneyland right now.