Jesse Chavez keeps adding on to his story. The 30 year old freshly mullet-hawked erstwhile journeyman twirled a gem, going 8+ innings and giving up only two opposite field solo shots. The offense did just enough to withstand another Jim Johnson "performance," and the A's were able to hold on to win the first of three contests against the Pale Hose.
For 8 innings, this game was such a breeze. On a beautiful night in Oakland, the A's were cruising.
Jesse Chavez gave up a hit to Conor Gillaspie in the first, then a an opposite-field jack to Dayan Viciedo in the second inning. Viciedo's shot was to right center over the higher wall. It was not cheap. It was not easy. And it gave A's fans a glimpse as to why the White Sox are putting so many runs on the board (yes). Thankfully, that proved to be just a bump in the road.
The A's deficit did not last long. Alberto Callaspo lofted a soft single to lead off. After Brandon Moss struck out, Nick Punto reached on a fielder's choice, and Josh Reddick stepped to the plate to Wham's Careless Whisper (see also: Sexy Sax Man) (edit: this may have only started in his second AB, but clearly it was planned for this game and the change in tunes may have done him some good). Reddick took an 86 mph fastball over the middle of the plate and sent it all the way to the top of the centerfield wall. White Sox CF Leury Garcia misplayed the carom and Reddick was into third base without a throw, driving in Punto and tying up the game.
Both pitchers tightened up after the second, albeit in markedly different fashion. John Danks used his Tommy Milone-like repertoire (sans curveball, but sporting a mid-high 80's fastball, cutter and change) to keep the A's off balance while Jesse Chavez challenged the White Sox hitters, coming up with some big strikeouts on Jose Abreu and Adam Dunn. Although the offenses were able to threaten, no one scored until the bottom of the fifth when the A's got to Danks.
Reddick continued his careless night with a solid leadoff walk. Once again, the A's didn't do anything with it for two outs with Craig Gentry and Jed Lowrie striking out. However, in the Bringer of Rain, with a look of determination and a twinkle of mischief in his eye. The bat waggling over his shoulder, Danks was visibly worried. He tossed some tentative pitches that just missed the strike zone. In a visible bout of frustration and desperation, he heaved his hittable fastball down and in. Josh Donaldson did not disappoint, rocketing a 2-0 offering into the left field BBQ terrace; would you like a little leather with your ribs?
With the way Chavez was pitching, it seemed that 3-1 would be enough to get it done. Indeed, the run support and lead (rare this year for him) only emboldened Chavez. In the top of the sixth he struck out Abreu and Viciedo, both on four pitches, both on curveballs. Viciedo looked foolish swinging at a 73 mph breaking ball that wickedly dove out of the zone into the dirt. Vicious.
Daniel Webb relieved Danks in the seventh and never had a good feel for the ball. Reddick got on by bunting to beat the shift. With the way he's going, he'll take it. Goes down as 2 for 3 in the book! Gentry walked on four pitches that did not even sniff the zone. With one out, Jed Lowrie notched his 500th career hit in style, doubling to drive in two to extend the lead to 5-1. Webb then walked Donaldson on five pitches (again, easy takes for JD), Lowrie moved to third on a wild pitch, and Yoenis Cespedes stepped to the plate looking to keep it moving. Cespedes got two hanging sliders in a row and grounded the second one right up the middle. Gordon Beckham was well-positioned and tossed it to Alexei Ramirez, who made a running, spinning catch and throw to nail Cespedes at first for the double play. Oh well, we didn't need any more runs, did we?
Webb stayed in for some reason and again could not find the plate. He walked the bases loaded in the eighth. Unfortunately Reddick struck out, and Gentry grounded out to end the thread. Again, it didn't seem like a big deal. Chavez was at 90 pitches and came in to start the 9th.
Abreu would not go down easy after striking out twice against Chavez. This time he took a slightly elevated cutter on the outside corner to the opposite field and parked it in the right field bleachers for his 14th homer of the year. Man, he has some easy power. It looked as though he just flicked the bat and crushed it for an oppo taco. What a nice pickup for the White Sox.
Bob Melvin decided Chavez, in his first ever year as a starting pitcher, was tiring, and thought he could turn to Fernando Abad to get the lefty Adam Dunn. On paper, this was a great matchup, but Abad somehow walked Dunn after being up 2-0. Melvin already had Jim Johnson warming up (Abad was a LOOGY all the way) and the murmers began.
Johnson wasted no time in adding to his legacy in an attempt to become the biggest waste of money in Oakland A's history. (I was going to say Oakland history, but the Raiders drafted JaMarcus Russell and Corey Maggette was signed by the Warriors; nothing can come close to those, especially JaMarcus). He gave up a line drive to Viciedo; Josh Reddick tried to make a heroic diving catch, came up empty and Viciedo ended up on second. Two runs in, second and third for the Sox, and still no outs.
Alexei Ramirez knocked a line drive base hit to send in the pinch runner Moises Sierra from third, and the White Sox suddenly were down just 5-3 with no outs. Melvin and the Coliseum crowd had seen enough. Johnson apparently cannot pitch in the Coliseum at all. We were desperately hoping he could notch a save, put the boos behind him, and right the ship, but instead he dug the hole deeper. Melvin wisely pulled him, but A's killer Paul Konerko came off the bench to face Sean Doolittle. Konerko lauched a sacrifice fly to the big part of the park, scoring Viciedo. Ramirez easily stole second base, and the White Sox had the tying run in scoring position with just one out.
Sean Doolittle, who earlier this season blew a few saves, had a nice scoreless streak, the team's win streak, and Jesse Chavez' well-deserved win on the line. And boy did he deliver. He got Tyler Flowers striking out on a foul tip on four straight mid-90's heaters, the last one up and in and got Garcia swinging on three straight fastballs, likewise getting him to chase the high heat. Doolittle looked like a bona fide closer, blowing his fastball by them, and carrying the beleaguered bullpen on his back in the process.
Despite the hair-raising finish, this was quite the win for the A's. A win is a win is a win and now we have five in a row. Phew.
Side Note - Competitions
I have to say, I'm digging the internal competition between our top three starters. Chavez, Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir all are in the top 10 in ERA in the American League, they each have just one loss on the season, and all three are over 50 innings pitched through 8 starts.
In the outfield, an all-out competition for plate appearances is playing out. Since Coco Crisp is still injured, Reddick and Gentry are both getting an opportunity to show who deserves the lion's share of starts in right field. Reddick had a nice triple and the bunt single, while Gentry also had a bunt single. Here are their stats so far; may the best man win: