Yu Darvish just can't catch a break against the Oakland Athletics. He's tried being really good, and he's tried being really bad, but nothing seems to work when he faces the A's. He's lost all four of his starts against them this season, and today's game marked the second time this year that Oakland has beaten him by a score of 1-0. If you're going to own any pitcher in the league, I guess you couldn't pick a better one than the ace of your biggest rival's rotation.
On the other hand, everything that Bartolo Colon does seems to turn to gold these days. After a brief rough patch in August and a short DL stint, Big Bart looks like he's back in prime form. He tossed eight shutout innings today, striking out seven batters and allowing only one runner to reach third base.
The A's got to work on Darvish early, forcing him to throw 26 pitches in the first inning. Each of the first three hitters worked six-pitch at-bats, and Josh Donaldson managed to reach base via a walk. Brandon Moss then pulled the first pitch he saw on the ground down the right field line, and it was off to the races. As the ball rattled around in the corner, Mike Gallego waved Donaldson around third in a characteristically aggressive move. Had the throw come in on target, Donaldson would have been out by several feet, but Ian Kinsler's relay pulled Geovany Soto off the plate and allowed Donaldson to slide safely around the tag. After last night's high-scoring affair, no one expected this to be the entirety of today's scoring, but the A's made that run hold up for the rest of the afternoon. You can give Gallego the assist for forcing the Rangers to make a play and scratching out the winning run early in the contest.
The Rangers' biggest rally of the afternoon took place in the bottom of the 4th. Colon had stranded a runner on first base in each inning thus far, but this time Soto lined a double into the left field corner with A.J. Pierzynski on base. If any other Ranger had been running in Pierzynski's place, then he probably would have scored, but A.J.'s 36-year-old catcher's knees carried him only to 3rd. The decision to hold him rather than force the A's to make the throw turned out to be crucial -- Colon struck out Mitch Moreland on a 96mph fastball to end the inning and halt what would prove to be Texas's best chance of scoring for the rest of the game. Pierzynski probably would have been out if he'd gone, but then, you never know -- Donaldson should have been out when he went as well. Aggressiveness trumped caution today.
Texas put a runner on base in the 5th and 6th, but Colon ended each threat with a strikeout. Darvish did the same in the 6th, fanning Yoenis Cespedes to strand Donaldson on second. Darvish finally gave way to the bullpen after seven innings, but Bob Melvin made the gutsy decision to send Colon back out for the 8th. The starter was clearly tiring, and allowed a one-out single to Elvis Andrus. Alex Rios followed with what looked for the world like a home run when it left his bat, but it fell just short into Brandon Moss's glove for the second out. Adrian Beltre then hit what looked for the world like a home run to right field, but Josh Reddick brought it down on the warning track to end the inning. Once again, a bold move by Oakland's coaching staff paid dividends.
Grant Balfour entered in the 9th inning to close out the game. In the first half of the season, that sentence instilled confidence in most A's fans. In the last three weeks, it has become a bit of a horror story. Would we get Good Balfour, blowing away hitters and locking the door? Would we get Wild Balfour, walking the first two hitters and putting everyone on the edge of their seats? Or would we get Tired Balfour, serving up batting practice and then reporting after the game that he didn't have his fastball?
At first, it looked like Wild Balfour was going to make an appearance. His first four pitches to Pierzynski missed the strike zone, but A.J. was kind enough to bail him out by fouling two of them off. Balfour finally hit the zone with his fifth pitch (which Pierzynski fouled off), but A.J. once again bailed him out by chasing the next pitch out of the zone and popping it up to Kurt Suzuki in foul ground for the first out. This may have been the most crucial at-bat of the game for Texas, except for Moreland's strikeout in the 4th. If Pierzynski had shown some patience (seriously, did anyone give him the scouting report on Balfour?), he would have easily walked on four pitches. He could be looked at as the goat of this game for the Rangers, considering that his lack of speed cost them a run in 4th and his lack of plate discipline cost them an out in the 9th.
Lance Berkman made a pinch-hitting appearance with one out, but Balfour got him to line out to Coco Crisp in center. It was a well-hit ball, but, with everything coming up green and gold, it went straight at a defender. Mitch Moreland came up as Texas's last chance, and despite his current 0-for-23 slump, I've seen him beat the A's too many times to feel comfortable with him at the plate. I thought Balfour pitched him well by giving him nothing to drive, but Moreland laid off the 3-2 pitch and drew a walk. David Murphy came in to pinch-hit, but Balfour caught him looking at an 0-2 pitch at the knees to end the game. Wild Balfour had been out-sucked by Pierzynski, and Good Balfour had taken it the rest of the way.
The game was not without a bit of drama. The ongoing feud between Darvish and Donaldson continued, as explained by Susan Slusser:
Josh Donaldson confirms to me that Darvish yelled "fastball" at him, then threw him a curveball - which is what hacked off Crisp. #Athletics— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) September 14, 2013
When she says "hacked off Crisp," she's referring to this:
That is Coco Crisp jawing with Adrian Beltre over Darvish's somewhat bush-league antics, and Daric Barton rescuing him from the quick trigger finger of umpire Joe West. Donaldson apparently wasn't worried about it, even claiming that he "like(s) the head games," but Coco was clearly irked. Donaldson got the last laugh, though, by hitting a single on the pitch in question.
With this victory, the A's reduced their Magic Number in the AL West to 10 games with 14 remaining. They hold a 5½-game lead over Texas with one more heads-up showdown tomorrow, and you have to be happy with their current position. They are completely in the driver's seat, with a comfortable lead and a more favorable schedule the rest of the way. It should be noted that the Angels, who Oakland will face six more times, are 16-6 over their last 22 games and should not be taken lightly. The work is not done yet, but the division is now Oakland's to lose.
Today's game was what playoff baseball looks like, and the A's performed admirably. These next few weeks are going to be fun.
The series wraps up tomorrow with Jarrod Parker facing Martin Perez. The A's will be looking for revenge against Perez after the left-hander shut them down two weeks ago. Game time is 12:05pm. Nico will have your thread.