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Game #71: Shreddick Helps A's Sink Mariners

Today was a good day.

After tinkering with different beard sizes, Reddick has finally found the one which produces hits.
After tinkering with different beard sizes, Reddick has finally found the one which produces hits.

At this point, it's foolish to ever count the Oakland Athletics out of a game. The beginning of this one had all the makings of a heartbreaker, with the A's leaving runners in scoring position in the first three innings and the Mariners plating a couple of early runs on a string of dinky hits. It looked like the kind of game that makes you say, "Well, you can't win 'em all!"

Well, it turns out that the A's totally can win 'em all. Or at least, the vast majority of 'em. They went on to post crooked numbers in the 4th, 5th, 7th, and 8th, ended Hisashi Iwakuma's scoreless streak at 31.2 innings, and cruised to a 10-2 victory to avoid a sweep at the hands of the 3rd-place Mariners. This club does not panic when it falls behind. The starters are able to settle down after allowing early runs and keep the team in the game, and the lineup is able to patiently mount comebacks one run at at time.

Today's match-up looked daunting on paper. Iwakuma brought a 1.79 ERA and a 6.21 K/BB into the contest, and had already beaten the A's twice this season. Oakland was all over him early, but he danced out of several jams. In the first, John Jaso walked and Yoenis Cespedes singled to put runners on the corners with one out, but Brandon Moss grounded into a double play to end the threat. In the 2nd, Josh Reddick tripled to the wall in right-center, but was left stranded. In the 3rd, Eric Sogard doubled and Jaso drew another walk, but again Iwakuma escaped unscathed.

Meanwhile, Bartolo Colon was running into trouble as well. He escaped the 1st despite giving up two hits, but Seattle got to him in the 2nd. Three straight singles loaded the bases with nobody out, including one that bounced off of Colon's glove and came to rest directly beneath him while he frantically searched the surrounding air for the ricochet. Hey, if he can't see his own feet, why would we expect that he could see a ball sitting right next to them? After Colon struck out Designated Shortstop Brendan Ryan, Endy Chavez sliced a soft single to left to score a pair of runs and give the Mariners a 2-0 lead.

The 4th inning was the turning point of the game. Iwakuma had a two-run lead, and if he could settle down from his early-inning shakiness then this game could have been wrapped up pretty quickly. Conversely, the A's had a two-run deficit despite battling hard for the first few innings, and they were going to need to continue putting pressure on Iwakuma if they wanted any chance of coming back in this one. It didn't take long to determine which path this game would take.

On Iwakuma's first pitch of the 4th inning, Josh Donaldson doubled to the wall in left. Three pitches later, Seth Smith doubled off the wall in right to score Donaldson. On the next pitch, Reddick singled sharply to right-center to plate Smith and tie the game. The A's finally capitalized after struggling all weekend with runners in scoring position, and they wouldn't look back. In the 5th, Jaso worked a leadoff walk after falling behind 1-2, Cespedes doubled to the wall in left to score him, and Moss drove an RBI single to center to cap off an 8-pitch at-bat. Not long before, the Mariners had looked like they were in control of the game, but suddenly it was 4-2 A's.

Iwakuma's day was over after allowing four runs and 11 baserunners in five innings, but Oakland's offense was just getting started. After going quietly in the 6th (that is, only two hits and no runs), the A's batted around in the 7th against Blake Beaven and Tom Wilhelmsen. Donaldson and Smith hit towering back-to-back homers, with both eclipsing 400 feet and Smith's reaching the 2nd deck in right field. The A's followed by loading the bases on singles by Reddick, Rosales, and Sogard. Coco Crisp drew a bases-loaded walk off of Wilhelmsen, and Jaso drove in another run with a sacrifice fly to left (the only time that he would be retired all day). The score was now 8-2 after seven innings.

While the A's were tearing apart Seattle's pitching, Colon settled down and did his usual thing. The Mariners made good contact against him in the first two innings, notching seven hits and consistently putting the ball in the air. That ended after the 2nd. Colon faced the minimum for the next five innings, recording nine groundouts and a pair of strikeouts while eliminating the only hit against him with a double play. He didn't walk a batter today, and ended up going seven innings on 97 pitches (71 strikes). This was a vintage Colon performance.

At this point, the game felt like it was pretty much over. The A's weren't done, though. Moss and Reddick each smoked solo homers off of Carter Capps in the 8th to bring the score to 10-2, and Sean Doolittle and Dan Otero teamed up to record the final six outs.

The A's did not just avoid a sweep today. They emphatically avoided a sweep with a statement game against one of the toughest pitchers in the league. Every team will have a hiccup for a couple of days here and there, but Oakland showed that it is just too good to stay down for long. They hit, they pitched, they fielded, and they ran the bases. This is what the A's look like when their game is running on all cylinders, and it's pretty impressive.

Two players stand out above the rest today: Josh Reddick and John Jaso. Reddick was pretty clearly the player of the game, going 4-for-5 with a homer, a triple, two RBI, and two runs scored. He also made a big impact in the field. His intimidating throwing arm saved a run in the 1st when Endy Chavez decided to stay at second base rather than test him by going first-to-third on a single; the next batter skied out to center on what would have been an RBI sac fly if Chavez had made it to third. Later, Reddick made an impressive running catch on a liner by Kyle Seager with the bases loaded in the 2nd, preventing further damage in Seattle's only real rally of the day. The big news, however, is that he finally got his batting average up over the Mendoza Line. His triple-slash after today's big game: .211/.302/.340. Hey, that's progress.

Jaso's day was based around patience. He was billed as a high-OBP hitter when the A's acquired him, but he's struggled a bit in the green and gold. Today, he worked walks in his first three plate appearances against a pitcher who had issued only 14 free passes in his first 14 starts this year. That patience helped set the tone of working counts, driving up Iwakuma's pitch count, and getting runners on base in whatever way possible. When Beaven finally did get ahead of Jaso 0-2 in his fourth trip to the plate, he fouled off three pitches and then lined a single to right. He capped off his day by turning in a good piece of situational hitting, lofting a fly ball with the bases loaded and one out to plate an easy insurance run. Jaso has quietly been on fire lately, sporting a .400/.511/.457 line in his last 11 games (45 plate appearances) with nine walks and only three strikeouts. He is finally looking like the top-of-the-lineup player that Oakland was expecting him to be.

The A's could have rolled over and died today. They could have looked at the early deficit, pressed at the plate against a tough pitcher, and let this one slip away. Instead, they fought hard, took it one at-bat at a time, and pieced together a decisive victory. Every single starter had a hit, everybody except Rosales reached base at least twice, Colon turned in another sharp outing, and the A's kept right on rolling after briefly stumbling the last two days. They are tied with Boston for the best record in the AL (42-29), they're three games ahead of Texas in the West, and they're showing that even though can't win 'em all, they can win on any given day against any given opponent.

The A's now head to Arlington to try to put some distance between themselves and the Rangers. The four-game set kicks off at 5:05pm tomorrow, with Dan Straily facing Nick Tepesch. Billy Frijoles will have your thread.