By Morris Phillips
Unlikely, and typical at the same time, the signature moment in the A’s 11-4 win over the Rangers Wednesday, of course, involved Daric Barton.
The Coliseum crowd’s reaction said it all as disbelieving cheers pervaded as Barton’s lofty drive approached the right center field wall.
Could the journeyman turn powerful, against Yu Darvish, one of baseball’s best pitchers? Barton’s major league career since 2010 had slowed to a crawl, much due to his inability to integrate extra-base pop into his otherwise solid, overall game. And the odds of Barton changing his portfolio against a top pitcher in one of the biggest moments of the season would have to be astronomical.
Given that backdrop, the home crowd chose to reserve judgment as Barton’s drive took flight. The A’s led 3-2 in a tense, series finale that would decide who would lead the AL West with 23 games remaining. Darvish had struggled to that point, allowing Brandon Moss’ two-run shot in the first inning and walking Albert Callaspo to lead off the sixth. The tall right hander had fussed with catcher A.J. Pierzynski earlier when his pitches started to miss their targets. Darvish’s 2-2 pitch to Barton offered an opening but surely not one that Barton would take advantage of.
“When we face a good pitcher, what were we going to do?” Brandon Moss would say after the game. “Were we going to be shut down, or were we going to do be able to score some runs? That’s been a question mark for us the last couple of years.”
But in recent weeks, the A’s have responded, beating Anibel Sanchez, Justin Verlander and David Price while taking wins leader Max Scherzer to the wire. Barton’s back and forth travels between Oakland and Sacramento removed him from much of the A’s transformation, but in a big spot against Darvish, he got his chance to impact his team’s fortunes in the biggest way.
Barton’s ball did clear the fence. And the A’s enjoyed a six-run sixth inning that blew the game open and tilted the tight divisional race towards Oakland. After winning 24 of 34—the best record in the majors over that span—Texas hasn’t been able to escape the A’s. What’s worse for the Rangers is the A’s have a kinder schedule down the stretch, with three games at Arlington standing as their only remaining games against a winning club.
Barton’s two-run shot gave the A’s 28 homers over the most previous 17 games further proof that Oakland has become the majors’ best at big swinging in the biggest moments. Rangers’ pitching allowed four homers on Wednesday showing that it wasn’t their day. But the A’s hit those Rangers’ pitches coming up big like Barton did in the sixth.
“It shows that we have a pretty good lineup on any given day,” Josh Donaldson said. “No matter who’s on the mound, we can put up some runs. This is a great time right now for our offense to get it going.”
Barton was with the A’s for just 67 games in 2011 and 46 games in 2012. During last season’s playoff push, Barton was relegated to the River Cats. After hitting .143 in May of this season, Barton was designated for assignment. In his seven-year career, Barton’s hit just 28 home runs and he seemed like the last guy manager Bob Melvin would feel comfortable with in a hot playoff race.
But since Josh Reddick went down, Barton has started at first base in seven of 10 games. His defense has been outstanding as always, but also his bat, hitting .320 in 25 at-bats.
On Thursday, the A’s welcome the Astros with a pitching matchup of Sonny Gray and Houston right hander Brad Peacock at 7:05pm.