Well, I'll be darned. I can't say that I've ever felt playoff game atmosphere on July 8th, but I did tonight. The A's/Pirates match-up, the All-Star match-up and the Grant Green call-up were all over baseball today in preparation for a game that lived up to all its hype. The A's bested the Pirates by the score of 2-1 in a heart-stopping, heart-attack inducing contest on a muggy summer night that reminded us why we love this sport so, so much.
The A's did beat Locke in his seven innings tonight, despite only banging out three hits and three walks in their nine innings. This was manufactured baseball at its finest, as the A's took advantage of every opportunity, every extra base, every pitch, and every defensive play like this game counted.
And of course, the A's lone All-Star pitched like he was also Cy Young, as Bartolo closed the night with seven innings, seven hits, one run, one walk, and five strikeouts. Ryan Cook pitched a shaky eighth, allowing two hits, but scoring none, and Grant Balfour shut the Pirates down, dodging a ball hit to the wall for his A's-leading 41st consecutive save. (I won't remind him that he's not yet even halfway to Gagne.)
Jed Lowrie and Josh Donaldson came through big time in tonight's game with all of the A's hits (2 and 1 respectively), scoring both of the A's runs, and accounting for one of the A's RBI, but no one was bigger than Coco Crisp, who made a game-saving catch to end the seventh inning, preventing at least two runs from scoring.
The A's got on the board in the fourth on a one-out double by Lowrie. He took off for third on a wild pitch, and juuuust made it. Donaldson would drive him in with a sacrifice fly to give the A's the 1-0 lead. Colon would put runners on in the first, third and fourth, and fifth, but would get out of all jams. Meanwhile, the A's added a run in the seventh on back-to-back Lowrie and Donaldson singles, a force-out by Cespedes to third base in which I'm still not sure how he avoided the double-play; he ran to first base, and a two-out walk in a good at-bat by Chris Young to load the bases for Norris. Who also walked. Anti-climactic? For sure. Awesome? Also for sure.
With a 2-0 lead, the A's sent Colon back to the mound for the seventh. Colon gave up a one-out double and a single to put runners at first and third, but would strike out Marte (you could have too; he swung at pitches today that bounced 10 feet in front of the plate) for the second out. Then Colon got a slow-hit ground ball to third, but it was a perfectly placed basehit and all Donaldson could do was hold the ball while the run scored. And speedy Andrew McCutchen smoked a ball to center which Coco dove and caught in mid-air, saving the entire game for the A's. Instead of 2-1 A's, it would have been at least 3-2 Pirates.
Cook made it through the eighth, and Balfour took the ninth, making one bad pitch that was caught at the wall. But it was caught, and he did get the save, and all is happy and joyful in A's-land, except for the Orioles not beating the Rangers. But we can't worry about that; all we can do is win. And tonight was a big one, keeping the A's in first place and sending them to 16 games over .500.
Grant Green watch: Great play ranging deep into the outfield for a ball, making a strong throw for the out. Solid first at-bat; worked a full count and hit the ball hard. He would strike out in his next two at-bats. He faced a tough pitcher in his first night out; I wouldn't read anything into his 3 at-bats.
The A's take on the Pirates again tomorrow in an attempt to win the series. Straily vs. Cole. We'll see you back here at 4:05!