The Oakland Athletics entered Saturday with a three-game losing streak. What made that streak worse was that all three games featured early Oakland leads which were later blown. Today, the A's figured out how to avoid blowing another early lead: Don't take one. In fact, don't take a lead at all until the 9th inning. Can't blow a lead that you don't have!
The A's halted their recent skid with a come-from-behind win of their own, defeating the Baltimore Orioles by a score of 2-1. Jarrod Parker posted his third straight gem, Kurt Suzuki got a big hit in his first game back with Oakland, and Coco Crisp played the role of late-game hero with a mammoth home run in the 9th. Finally, A's fans have something to cheer about.
The Orioles drew first blood in the 3rd inning. Parker had retired the first seven batters of the game, but he left a pitch inside to Ryan Flaherty and Flaherty smashed it into the right-field seats for a solo homer. This was particularly frustrating because Flaherty's slash-line this year is .221/.281/.369, and he's easily the worst hitter on the team despite ironically serving as the DH today. I typed his name into Google to look up his stats, and the website just said, "Who?" Turns out that he actually has a little bit of pop (14 career homers in 403 PA's), but you still hate to get beaten by the auto-out at the bottom of the lineup.
That was pretty much the only blip on the radar for Parker. He did get into a couple of jams in the 6th and 8th innings, but he escaped each time. Both of the jams involved the infield failing to turn double plays with runners on first and second and one out, once when Adam Jones took out Jed Lowrie with a perfect slide and once when Jones beat out the relay to first base, and both times Parker induced a routine out to snuff the flames. He also posted four 1-2-3 innings, so he was clearly in command throughout this game. Parker's final line included eight innings, five hits, five strikeouts, and three walks; over his last three starts, he's thrown 25.1 innings, allowed only three runs, and racked up a 19:4 K:BB ratio.
Unfortunately, Chris Tillman actually pitched slightly better than Parker did. Or, maybe Oakland's offense just hit slightly worse than Baltimore's. Either way, the A's only managed three hits off of Tillman, and two of them came off the bat of Lowrie. They finally got to him in the 6th, when Kurt Suzuki, in only his second at-bat since re-joining the team, lined a double down the left-field line; two batters later, Lowrie hit a double of his own to drive him in with the tying run. This helped make up for Suzuki's first at-bat, in which he flailed at a 3-2 offering which was a full foot off of the outside corner - hey, at least the pitch didn't hit him! Suzuki is now leading the A's in hitting (.333) and slugging (.667), which is totally not a small-sample fluke and will absolutely continue as he carries the team into the playoffs. You can't argue, it's science!
Outside of that 6th inning, the lineup just did absolutely nothing. Nico put it best in the Game Thread:
I'm imagining the pre-game pitcher/catcher/coach meeting with the Orioles:
"So how do we get their big hitter out?"
"Oh, just throw fastballs down the middle."
Tillman matched Parker's four 1-2-3 innings, and added two more three-batter innings thanks to a pair of double plays. Josh Donaldson is still cold, Yoenis Cespedes is still lost at the plate, Brandon Moss didn't run into any mistake pitches, and Josh Reddick couldn't even get down a shift-beating bunt in his first at-bat (though it would have been perfect if it had been meant as a sacrifice).
Ah, but then there is Coco Crisp. He entered the game having gone 5-for-8 in his last two contests with a homer in each one, but was 0-for-3 against Tillman today. However, Darren O'Day came in to relieve the starter in the 9th, and Coco greeted him by taking his 3-1 pitch deep to right for a go-ahead homer. He'd actually showed bunt on the first pitch of the at-bat, and thought that he had ball four on the 3-0 pitch, but I don't think anyone is complaining that neither of those things worked out for him.
Grant Balfour came in to close things out in the bottom of the frame, and recorded one of his best outings of the season. There were no four-pitch walks to get you on the edge of your seat, no runners in scoring position to bring the winning run to the plate, and no real drama whatsoever. There was a three-pitch strikeout, a 2-2 count which resulted in a comebacker to the mound, and another three-pitch strikeout. Twelve pitches, ten strikes, three outs. Done and done.
This was a good, clean game by the A's. The pitching was fantastic, the defense didn't make any glaring mistakes, and the offense, while weak, scratched out just enough runs to win the game. Having eight or nine good hitters in the lineup means that you can still win when the middle of the order contributes nothing. That said, though, don't be afraid to start hitting anytime now, fellas. Especially you, Cespedes.
This is the last tough stretch in Oakland's schedule. After tomorrow's finale against Baltimore, they have four in Detroit, and then six games at home against the Rays and Rangers. Then, September is mostly full of lots of Twins and AL West bottom feeders. The important thing on this road trip is to not get swept, and to stay in the race long enough to go on a run against the weak September schedule. Oakland succeeded in that task today, and have a chance to win a road series against a contending team with a victory tomorrow.
I would suggest not trying to take a lead until the 9th again. A's games seem to be ending in comebacks lately, one way or the other.
The A's and O's play the rubber game tomorrow at 10:35am. Sonny Gray and his 1.44 ERA face Scott Feldman. Nico will have your thread.