If there's one thing Jason Hammel now knows, it's that he's welcome in Oakland. A's fans have recovered nicely from booing Jim Johnson off the mound on Opening Night against Cleveland — last Sunday, they gave Jon Lester a standing ovation to welcome him to the Bay Area following his first start with the A's. Lester allowed three earned runs on nine hits in 6⅔ innings; a good performance, to be sure, but not one that normally garners a standing ovation and a tip of the cap from the starter himself.
Tonight, Hammel got through 5⅔ innings, somehow, without allowing a run. He gave up seven hits and walked four in that span, but took advantage of two double plays and an impressive lack of offensive ability with runners on base to earn his first win with Oakland, a 3-0 decision in which the A's scraped together just enough offensively to ride in the wake of a sensational team pitching performance.
Hammel didn't do much to show that he was any sharper than he had been in his first four starts with the club, all of which resulted in losses, which in turn combined to give him an ERA of 9.53 in his time since being dealt to Oakland by the Chicago Cubs. But the bottom line is what ultimately matters, and Hammel's was blemish-free this evening. So in his fifth start with the team, a modest Tuesday-night Coliseum crowd of 16,335 gave him a standing ovation as he walked off the mound in the 6th inning.
Oakland's bullpen was even more blemish-free. Eric O'Flaherty retired Kevin Kiermaier to end the 6th, while bullpen mates Ryan Cook, Luke Gregerson, and Sean Doolittle threw perfect innings in the 7th, 8th, and 9th, respectively, to seal the victory.
Oakland's three runs were all scored in the middle frames, with the A's taking an initial 1-0 lead in the 5th inning and extending the advantage to 3-0 in the 6th. And with the Dodgers' walk-off win over the Angels at Chavez Ravine, the A's picked up a full game on their AL West foes tonight, a difference that now stands at two full games.
The impact of Coco Crisp's return to the lineup was felt immediately. Alberto Callaspo got the 5th inning started with a line-drive single, advancing to second on an Eric Sogard bunt attempt that almost resulted in an infield hit. Crisp wasted no time after stepping up to the plate, singling on a ground ball through the right side to score Callaspo.
Oakland picked right back up where it left off in the 6th inning, when Derek Norris came up with a one-out single. Nate Freiman drilled a 2-2 fastball into the left-field corner, and Norris scored all the way from first thanks to aggressive base coaching from Mike Gallego.
Freiman advanced all the way to third on a throwing error, and scored almost immediately after on a ground-ball single from Reddick. All in all, the A's still struggled at the plate tonight, leaving 10 runners on base and going just 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position. But three runs is three runs, and it certainly helps to win ballgames when your pitching staff allows the other team none at all.
The A's take on the Rays tomorrow in search of their first post-All Star Break series sweep — first pitch is at 12:35pm, with Sonny Gray (2.59 ERA) opposing Tampa Bay's Jeremy Hellickson (3.29).