“Contagious” Starting Pitching Keys A’s to Win in Bay Bridge Series Opener

By Matthew Harrington

OAKLAND, Calif. – A bug is rapidly sweeping the Oakland Athletics clubhouse and every starting pitcher seems to have come down with it. It isn’t a case of the flu, but an epidemic of quality starts, with the latest “victim” to succumb being Jesse Chavez.

“It’s contagious,” said Chavez. “Yesterday, watching Jeff Samardzija pitch, I just wanted to feed off that. As a team, we feed off that. We’re playing good baseball. We’re happy to be home.”

The A’s right-hander matched a career-high in strikeouts (nine) over six shut-out innings in a 5-0 win against the San Francisco Giants at O.Co Coliseum Monday night. The win in the opener of the 2014 Bay Bridge Series marks the fifth-straight win for the A’s (56-33), who swept one of the American League’s best in the Toronto Blue Jays in a four-game set over the weekend. A’s starters allowed three runs over 27 innings of work in the quartet of outings.

“I just want to hold down this spot for what happened earlier in the year,” said Chavez. “Whatever role they ask of me, I’ll do it. I’m just looking forward to being a part of this team.”

The decision for Chavez (7-5, 3.06 ERA) also marks a swing towards the early-season progress that had the reliever-turned-starter in the running for American League pitcher of the month in April. Chavez was 2-4 with a 4.08 ERA over his last eight starts coming in to Monday night, including a five-inning, five-run loss at Detroit in his most recent start last Wednesday.

“The last two starts, with two strikes I was over the plate a little bit,” assessed Chavez on his recent struggles. “My main focus was finishing the at-bat if I got ahead.”

Fernando Abad pitched 2/3 of an inning of scoreless relief; Dan Otero did his part with 1 and 1/3 frames without a run. Ryan Cook fired off a 1-2-3 top of the ninth inning to wrap up the game. In total, A’s pitchers scattered only five hits to the San Francisco offense. The Giants left seven runners on base, while Oakland stranded nine.

Craig Gentry represented the first A’s run of the night on a John Jaso ground-out in the fifth inning to snap Giants Starter Ryan Vogelsong’s 18 and 2/3 innings scoreless streak in interleague play. An inning later, Alberto Callaspo provided the crushing blow, greeting newly-inserted reliever Juan Gutierrez with a one-out, two-run double. Callaspo took the first offering from Gutierrez, a 92 mile-per-hour fastball, into the gap in right-center to plate Josh Donaldson from third base and Jed Lowrie from first. Vogelsong (5-6, 3.92) was charged with all three runs, and ultimately, the loss after his five and 1/3 innings of work.

Lowrie chased Vogelsong earlier in the inning, singling on a first-pitch delivery to put runners on the corners after Donaldson was controversially hit by a pitch to open the inning. Replay showed that the ball hit Donaldson’s fingers near the knob of the bat, sparking debate from Bruce Bochy. The Giants manager already burned his challenge when officials upheld a hit-by-pitch of Craig Gentry in the bottom of the fifth.

“It was originally called a foul ball,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin. “Once (home plate umpire Paul Nauert) saw his hand, he changed the call around.”

“It hit the small pinky, the pinky knuckle,” said Donaldson. “He did the right thing. I have to give him some credit. When I heard it, it sounded like it hit the bat, but obviously I felt my hand hurting. I knew it hit my hand. He did the right thing, looked at my hand, saw it was swelling. He asked if I swung. I told him I felt like I didn’t.”

A couple of seventh-inning errors from Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford put Jaso and Yoenis Cespedes on second and third with no outs, setting up a Brandon Moss sacrifice fly off Gutierrez for a 4-0 lead. Donaldson, the starting AL all-star third baseman by way of fan vote, knocked Gutierrez out of the game on a laser up the middle to score Cespedes for the A’s fifth and final run of the night.

The sold-out crowd of 36,067 saw Oakland continue its dominance of San Francisco in the East Bay. Oakland has taken 10 of the last 12 games against their Northern California foes at the Coliseum.

“It’s always fun,” said Chavez of playing in the friendly rivalry. “It’s good baseball. It’s two good teams going at it. I think that’s good baseball.”

While the A’s continue to trend upward to the best record in the Major Leagues, the Giants have scuffled to one of the worst margins of victory in the league. Over the last 26 games, San Francisco (49-40) has gone 7-19 after winning 42 of the first 63 games of the season.

The black and orange send All-Star starter Madison Bumgarner to the mound Tuesday looking to split the two-game series in Oakland before the interleague rivalry series shifts to AT&T Park for a pair starting Wednesday. Oakland hands the ball off to its ace, Sonny Gray to sweep the first half of the home-and-home.

Two Homer Night for Cespedes Puts A’s in Line for Sweep Over Yankees

By Matthew Harrington

The Oakland Athletics won their fifth-straight contest, coming from behind to beat the New York Yankees 7-4 at Yankee Stadium Wednesday night. Yoenis Cespedes mashed a pair of home runs to support starter Jesse Chavez (5-3, 3.04 ERA) while Josh Donaldson’s solo shot in the seventh inning provided the game-winning run. Sean Doolittle pitched a perfect ninth inning for his seventh save of the season to put Oakland (37-22) one win away from sweeping the Yankees.

The Yankees (29-29) scored all their runs in the bottom of the third inning with Derek Jeter lacing an run-scoring single and Jacoby Ellsbury ripping a three-run home run to right center field for a 4-0 off Chavez. Cespedes put the A’s on the board with a deep fly to center off pinstripes starter Vidal Nuno in the top of the fourth, then pounded his twelve four-bagger of reliever Matt Daley top open the sixth. Jed Lowrie and Alberto Callaspo also hit a sac fly each for the A’s to set up Donaldson’s go-ahead knock.

After Donaldson tagged Jose Ramirez (0-1, 4.50) with the loss for his team-best 16th homer of the season, the A’s picked up a pair of runs in the ninth. First came a bases loaded hit-by-pitch by Brandon Moss who played right field Wednesday for the first time since exiting Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Angels with an injury. Kyle Blanks added the third sacrifice fly of the night for the visitors for the 7-4 final tally.

Chavez went six innings for the green and gold, allowing four earned runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out five. Fernando Abad pitched a third of an inning for the A’s in relief of Chavez, but Dan Otero did the heavy lifting with 1 2/3 scoreless innings before turning the ninth inning over to Doolittle.

The A’s send Drew Pomeranz to the mound in his first start since the Angels snapped his string of solid outings. The Halos roughed Pomeranz up for five runs after the lefty allowed only two in his previous 19 innings as a starter. He draws the assignment of facing Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees marquee free-agent signing of the offseason.

New York earned the right to sign Tanaka after paying a posting fee of $20 million to the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan, the maximum in the new posting fee implemented this offseason. Under the new reals, any team that posts the highest bid is allowed to negotiate with the player, meaning the Yankees then had to outbid numerous other teams who matched the fee to sign the international sensation to a seven-year, $155 million contract. The 25-year-old is 8-1 on the season with 88 punchouts over 78.2 innings and a stellar 2.06 ERA.

Moss Homer, No-Hit Rally Lift Athletics over Rays 3-2

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - MAY 21: Pitcher Sean Doolittle (C) of the Oakland Athletics celebrates his save with teammates Fernando Abad #56 of the Oakland Athletics and catcher Derek Norris #36 of the Oakland Athletics after striking out Wil Myers of the Tampa Bay Rays to end the ninth inning of a game on May 21, 2014 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
ST. PETERSBURG, FL – MAY 21: Pitcher Sean Doolittle (C) of the Oakland Athletics celebrates his save with teammates Fernando Abad #56 of the Oakland Athletics and catcher Derek Norris #36 of the Oakland Athletics after striking out Wil Myers of the Tampa Bay Rays to end the ninth inning of a game on May 21, 2014 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

By Matthew Harrington

The Oakland Athletics managed only one hit against the Tampa Bay Rays Wednesday evening at Tropicana Field, but the lone base knock proved to be an efficient one. Brandon Moss’ solo home run in the fourth inning proved to be the game-winner in a 3-2 decision over Tampa Bay (19-28). Oakland (30-16) also scored two unearned runs in the second, proving to be all the run support Tommy Milone (2-3, 3.99 ERA) would need. The lefty fired 5 2/3 innings of two-run ball, outdueling Erik Bedard for a fifth-straight victory for the Green and Gold (30-16), leaders of the AL West by four games. Sean Doolittle converted the save just hours after manager Bob Melvin declared the flame-throwing southpaw full-time fireman, replacing the previously employed closer-by-committee approach.

To open the second inning, the A’s loaded the bases on Bedard without registering a hit. Yoenis Cespedes reached on an errant throw from shortstop Yunel Escobar that pulled James Loney off the bag at first base. Derek Norris and Brandon Moss followed the error with back-to-back walks and nowhere to put Alberto Callaspo, but the second basemen struck out for the first out of the inning.

Defensive miscues doomed Bedard’s brilliant performance though after a second error in the inning brought Cespedes and Norris around for a 2-0 lead. Rays second-sacker Sean Rodriguez turned a surefire double-play from Josh Reddick into a two-run mistake, sailing the potential twin-killing feed to Escobar into left field instead. The misplay gave Cespedes and Norris ample time to cross home plate from third and second base respectively.

While the A’s bedeviled the Rays to two runs on four base runners without a hit earlier, it only took one batter in the fourth for Oakland to add to the lead. With two outs in the top of the fourth, Brandon Moss crushed a first-pitch hanging breaking ball from Bedard to right field for his 10th long ball of the season to make it 3-0 for the visitors. Moss collected his 40th RBI of the season, the fourth-highest total in the Majors this season. Moss is also second in the junior circuit in on-base plus slugging percentage (.988) and sixth in the AL in on-base percentage (.393) in a quest for his first All-star bid of his career.

Tampa scored two runs in the bottom of the sixth on run-scoring singles from Loney and Escobar, the latter of which greeted reliever Fernando Rodriguez into the game. Rodriguez relieved Milone, who departed the game responsible for one run already and on the hook for a pair of runners on base as well. Only one of the runners scored before Rodriguez could retire the side, closing the book on Milone after three strike-outs and a solitary walk issued. His opponent Bedard (2-2, 2.63) went 5 1/3 innings, striking out six Athletics while yielding the lone hit to Moss for the only earned run of the night

After closing out the sixth inning, Rodriguez pitched a scoreless seventh before handing the ball over to Luke Gregerson for the eighth. Gregerson retired Evan Longoria looking at strike three but surrendered consecutive singles to Loney and pinch-hitter Matt Joyce to put the tying run at third with only one out.

Fernando Abad, the Athletics most reliable reliever this season, entered the game trying to cut off the Rays rally. He lost David DeJesus on a full-count base on balls to fill the bases with Rays but induced a lead-saving double play from Escobar to end the inning and the stamp out the Tampa scoring threat at two runs.

Sean Doolittle pitched a near-perfect ninth for his fourth save of the season, striking out two while allowing a lone hit to close out the game and put Oakland in line for the sweep in the Sunshine State. A’s ace Sonny Gray will take the bump for Thursday’s matinee from the Trop looking for win number six in a row for Melvin and associates. He’ll be opposed by the Ray’s Alex Cobb in the finale before the team heads north of the border for a weekend series in Toronto. The Blue Jays currently stand tied with the New York Yankees for first place in the AL East.

“Acquired Taste” Upsets A’s Appetite For Scoring

By Matthew Harrington

OAKLAND, Calif. – Monday night marked a pitching matchup of eerily similar pitcher profiles. Two players amid career renaissances met in a showdown that would have stolen the Sportscenter spotlight just six or seven years ago by now over a half-decade later proved to be a showdown between starters just now rediscovering the promise of their abilities. In the end the outcome was just as unexpected as the winning pitcher’s ability to find a way to win.

The Seattle Mariners (15-15) bested the Oakland Athletics in the battle of the unbeaten starters, with lanky right hander Chris Young topping fellow former All-Star Scott Kazmir on a Monday evening match-up at O.Co Coliseum. Oakland got a two run home run from Brandon Moss but M’s outfielder’s Stefan Romero’s first career long ball proved the difference-maker as Young and the Seattle bullpen held the Swinging A’s to just four hits in a 4-2 Mariners win.

“You don’t see him a lot,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin. “He’s an acquired taste. He’s unique in what he does. You look at the gun, he’s throwing 85 miles per hour throwing balls by you.”

Young (2-0, 3.03 ERA) baffled A’s hitters despite boasting a fastball that could be measured in miles per day, not hour. Young’s “heater” sat comfortably in the mid-to-low eighties on the radar gone throughout the evening, a speed that’d usually make any pro hitter’s eyes light up. Despite the shortcomings in velocity, the towering 6-foot-10 righty pitched six innings, holding the A’s (19-13) to just three hits while striking out and walking a pair each.

“It’s just different than a lot of guys you face,” said Moss of facing Young. “Obviously it looks like he’s throwing soft and the radar gun says he’s throwing soft but the way he pitches up and down makes it tough. It’s so rare that you see something like that. With that arm angle and that height it looks like he’s throwing out of the sky.”

Young did not pitch in the MLB at all during 2013 and pitched a combined 159 innings with the New York Mets and San Diego Padres since 2010. Like pitching foe Kazmir, Young appeared on the track to superstardom after earning an All-Star spot in 2007 with the Padres but had injuries derail a promising career. Young picked up the loss in the game, saw his ERA balloon from 3.12 in 2007 to 3.96 in 2008 before bloating to 5.21 in 2009. He now appears on track to becoming a valuable contributor to an MLB team after being released by the Washington Nationals earlier in the Spring.

“He’s not a guy that some team just runs out there,” echoed Moss. “He knows what he’s doing. He knows how to pitch. He knows how to get outs when he needs them. People see velocity and they want to judge people on that, but he can pitch.”

Young’s over-the-top delivery baffled Oakland batters for three and 1/3 no-hit innings to open play before shortstop Jed Lowrie broke through with his fourth-inning, no-out single. Left fielder Moss plated Lowrie with his two-run blast to right center on a belt-high 86 mph fastball, his fifth round-tripper of the season. The dinger marks the 10th all-time round-tripper against Seattle for Moss, the most he’s hit against one team.

“It was a mistake,” said Moss of the pitch he hammered over the wall. “He had thrown me one there earlier in the at-bat and I was in front of it. The more pitches I saw, the better my timing got. He’s a tough guy to face.”

Moss’ four-bagger pulled Oakland even after the Mariners capitalized early on an off-night from Kazmir (4-1, 2.64) by pushing two runs across in the first inning. Leadoff man Michael Saunders and Stefan Romero greeted the southpaw with back-to-back singles just out of reach of A’s infielders to open the game. Big offseason acquisition Robinson Cano struck out looking but designated hitter Corey Hart drove a single through the right side of the infield to bring Saunders around from second.

“That’s baseball,” said Kazmir. “I just had to focus on the stuff that I can control. With Saunders I ended up getting two strikes on him. I tried throwing him a fastball outside but it ended up being right over the middle of the plate and up and he was able to handle it. Then there was the changeup hit into the hole (by Romero). That’s something where, if maybe I pitched a little better there’d be a different outcome. After that first inning I just tried to get as deep as I could into the game.”

Romero advanced to third on the play as well, though if Craig Gentry weren’t subbing in in right field due to Josh Reddick’s ankle injury sustained Sunday in Boston, a play at the plate or third base could have been a possibility. Romero instead came around to score on Kyle Seager’s groundout for a 2-0 M’s lead with a half inning in the books. Romero also touched Kazmir for another run in the fifth, turning around a Kazmir 0-1 delivery to left field for his first homer in the Major Leagues.

“His velocity was down,” said batterymate Jaso. “He left a couple off-speed pitches in the zone. The homer was on a changeup and it was on a guy who swings and misses on changeups but location is key. When he got hurt it was just location.”

Kazmir opened the sixth inning by surrendering a 1-2 count single to Cole Gillespie, then watched him advance to second on a wild pitch to Brad Miller. The Seattle shortstop connected on the run-scoring base hit after lifting a fly ball to left field. Moss original charged the ball and appeared to have a chance to make a routine catch, but he put up a hand to his face as the ball dropped in front of him for the hit.

“As soon as it went up it went in the lights,” said Moss, primarily a first basemen by trade. “I was hoping it would come out of it but I could tell that it wasn’t going to. I tried to back up and keep it in front of me. I wanted to keep the runner from second from scoring and keep the other guy on first. I backed up and tried to get it in to (Donaldson) as quick as possible. Sometimes those plays feel worse than errors. At least when you make an error, you know it’s your fault. You can take ownership for it. When something like that happens, that’s tough. You want to make plays for your guys.”

Miller swiped second and third off Kazmir with catcher Mike Zunino at the plate, but third basemen Josh Donaldson cut a greey Miller down at the plate after he tried to score on a tapper down the line. Catcher John Jaso applied the tag for the easy out.

Seattle ran into the third out of the inning as well when Moss caught Zunino trying to go first-to-third on a Saunders single in the gap to left center. Moss atoned for his early miscue after his throw beat Zunino to the bag for the tag by Donaldson.

Kazmir departed the game after the inning, allowing four runs on eight hits with only three punchouts and a pair of walks. Kazmir also plunked Hart for the lone hit-by-pitch of the game and fired one wild pitch in a night where his best stuff and usual velocity eluded him.

“They just got to him early,” said Melvin of his veteran hurler. “They got him out of his rhythm early on. He recovered some, he battled. It probably wasn’t the best stuff we’ve seen this year. The velocity was down a little bit. You’re going to have days like that but he still kept us in the game.”

The A’s put the leadoff batter on just once all night after Donaldson singled up the middle in the bottom of the seventh, reaching base in the 27th-straight contest. The next batter Moss fell behind 0-2 before drawing the walk in a 12 pitch battle against Young. Manager Lloyd McClendon saw enough out of his starter, lifting him for lefty Charlie Furbush to face designated hitter Alberto Callaspo.

Callaspo entered play Monday night hitting .308 with runners on base. The switch-hitter also came having hit into six double plays, “good” for second in the American League. Callaspo added to that total, bouncing into the 6-4-3 twin killing.

“He hits it hard,” said Melvin of Callaspo’s grounder. “He just hit it right at the shortstop. (Callaspo) is a guy we feel good about in those situations. He’s gotten big hits for us all year. Sometimes you just square it up and hit it right at someone. It was a bit of a momentum changer.”

Pinch hitter Derek Norris walked off newly-inserted reliever Dominic Leone to keep the A’s threat. A’s manager Bob Melvin sent Reddick to the plate for Gentry, but ended up burning the outfielder’s availability after McClendon countered by calling on Joe Beimel for the lefty-lefty match-up. Melvin sent Yoenis Cespedes, another ailing Athletics outfielder, to the plate in Reddick’s stead, but the 2013 Home Run Derby champion popped out to Cano at second to end the rally.

“He was good enough to swing the bat,” said Melvin when asked after the game if he’d send a hampered Reddick to the plate. “He was good enough to potentially stay with it.”

In total, Seattle used five relievers with set-up man Yoervis Medina picking up his seventh hold and Fernando Rodney completed a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his eighth save on the campaign. Fernando Abad pitched a dominant seventh inning for Oakland and Ryan Cook pitched two innings to avoid taxing a green and gold bullpen that pitched four innings in a 3-2 extra innings win at Boston Sunday.

The A’s have now dropped three of their last four after exploding for 12 runs Wednesday to complete a sweep of the Texas Rangers. The A’s have scored just eight runs in the quartet of contests since. They’ll look to regain the scoring touch against Roenis Elias in game two of the four-game set Tuesday night. Oakland will counter with the surprise player of the season, Jesse Chavez.

“That’s just how it goes,” said Jaso. “There are ups and downs throughout the year. Maybe tomorrow we’ll come out and score ten, maybe we’ll win a 1-0 ballgame. You never know, that’s just how it works.”

Norris’ 11th-Inning Homer Salvages Oakland’s Afternoon As Johnson’s Woes Continue

By Matthew Harrington

Athletics closer Jim Johnson blew his second save of the season, but a Derek Norris three-run homer in the eleventh inning salvaged a 7-4 A’s win in Minnesota Wednesday afternoon. Oakland took a 4-0 led over the Twins in the first inning from Target Field, but a home team rally capped by a two-run ninth forced extra innings for A’s for the second time this season.

Athletics starter Jesse Chavez had a second-straight solid start spoiled, picking up a no-decision after seven innings and only one run allowed. Chavez also was the victim of circumstance in the A’s previous extra-inning game, a 12-inning 3-2 walk-off over the Mariners last Thursday.

Phil Hughes failed to retire the first six batters he faced Wednesday, walking leadoff man Sam Fuld and Jed Lowrie before giving up four-straight base hits including a two-RBI single by Brandon Moss and run-producing hits by Josh Donaldson and Alberto Callaspo for a 4-0 lead with no outs. Hughes righted the ship, yielding no runs for the next four innings then four relievers combined to leave the A’s scoreless over the next five innings before Norris’ blast.

Designated hitter Jason Kubel cut the lead to three, launching a 2-0 Chavez delivery to deep right for a solo home run. It’d be the lone run the Twins produced off Chavez but second baseman Brian Dozier pulled the Twins within two on a solo blast of his own off A’s reliever Sean Doolittle to cut the lead in half.

The ninth inning continued to be a rocky ride with the two-time MLB saves leader Johnson on the mound. The leadoff hitter Kubel reached base on a single to center then ex-Athletic Kurt Suzuki drew a walk with two strikes to put runners on first and second. Johnson coaxed a bunting pop-up off the bat of Chris Hermann but Aaron Hicks took ball four with on another two-strike count to load the bases.

In a series of strange events, the Twins scored runs on the next two plays, but not without an umpire review for each. Eduardo Escobar flared a ball to left that Yoenis Cespedes scooped up and fired to third, looking for the force-out. The umpires ruled Suzuki safe at third after protest from Melvin, who then lifted his closer on the verge of blowing a second lead in three save opportunities in favor of Dan Otero.

Otero suffered the same fate as Johnson when guarding the one-run led. Brian Dozier lifted a sacrifice fly to right field, but Josh Reddick unleashed a laser to home plate to try to cut down Suzuki at home. After review, the call on the field was upheld, Suzuki was ruled safe and the Twins had forced a tie. Otero would walk Joe Mauer before ending the ninth with a ground out off the bat of Trevor Plouffe.

Neither team found the scoreboard in the tenth, with Glen Perkins and Otero pitching perfect innings to set up Norris’s blast. Norris, a pinch-hitter in the ninth who remained in at catcher for John Jaso, rocketed a delivery from Jared Burton (0-1, 9.00 ERA) to deep center to knock in Daric Barton and Callaspo for the decisive blow. It’s the right-handed backstop’s second dinger, both coming off right-handed pitchers. Otero (1-0, 1.69 ERA) walked a tight rope in the 12th, loading the bases on two singles and a walk before retiring Plouffe for the victory.

The A’s wrap up the series against Minnesota with another early afternoon game Thursday. Oakland’s Dan Straily and Minnesota’s Mike Pelfrey each take the hill looking for their first win of 2014.

Crowded Outfield Means Catalyst Fuld May Be Odd Man Out In Oakland

By Matthew Harrington

When the Oakland Athletics dealt power-hitting prospect Michael Choice to the Texas Rangers for Josh Lindblom and outfielder Craig Gentry, the idea was that Gentry would serve as the team’s fourth outfielder. Gentry brought all the requisite skills; the ability to play all three positions, a proven track record performing in the role and faith in management that the role was his to lose. Now, with Gentry ready to return from the disabled list potentially as soon as Saturday fresh, the A’s have a tough decision on their hands. What do they do with their bench when everyone is healthy?

The platoon in place at catcher means both backstops are safe, not that John Jaso or Derek Norris would have been a victim of a crowded bench in the first place thanks to their offensive profiles. Nick Punto brings the intangibles, representing the type of glue guy franchises need in the club house if they hope to survive the 162-game grind with morale intact. Alberto Callaspo, who made his debut at first base in Tuesday’s afternoon half of the doubleheader, now boasts experience at every position on the diamond except catcher, pitcher and center field. The switch hitter stands firmly entrenched as the right-handed bat in a right-left platoon with Daric Barton at first. That leaves fourth outfielder Sam Fuld as the odd man out.

Fuld came to Spring Training a minor league free-agent competing for a position on the Major League roster that he was far from first in line for. The A’s gave prospect Billy Burns, possessor of plus-speed and the eye at the plate Billy Beane adores, an extensive look with 72 spring at-bats over 26 games. The speedster did not disappoint, pilfering 10 bases to pace the green and gold in Arizona while producing a .370 on-base percentage. Gentry, of course, was acquired to be the man off the bench to patrol the grass at O.Co Coliseum and every sign still points at him filling the role. His spot on the roster were only slightly derailed by a lower back strain. There was also always the option that Beane and co. would stick with no true fourth outfielder, electing to have Callaspo or first baseman/designated hitter Brandon Moss, who broke into the majors as an outfielder with the Boston Red Sox, spelling Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes when one of the triumvirate needs a breather.

Instead, the A’s saw something in Fuld, who hit a respectable .271 (abeit, less impressive than Burns .306 mark) with a .348 OBP in 59 preseason at-bats. The veteran outfielder, a product of Stanford University, led Oakland with four triples in the valley of the Sun. His March performance landed the 32-year -old a roster spot on Opening Day for just the third time in his seven seasons at the Major League level, not counting the 2008 season when he didn’t play above the AAA level. He’s certainly the one slated to head to the Sacramento Rivercats, if not elsewhere in the bigs, but he’s done nothing but excite in his time in Alameda County. If he hasn’t won a permanent spot in Oakland, he’s certainly shown value to the 29 other general managers in the league.

The compact left-hander, in hitting and throwing alike, has sparked the A’s offense in the leadoff spot when the coaching staff grants Coco Crisp a day of rest, something they plan on doing often this season for late-season preservation. Fuld currently sits behind only Callaspo, buoyed by the lone A’s home run of the season, in slugging percentage and OPS. Fuld is tied for second on the team in RBI’s with two, though five other Athletics have a pair as well. Fuld was denied another Thursday night when attempting to stretch an RBI triple into an inside-the-park homer proved ill-advised.
The 5-foot-10 journeyman with a career .235 batting average and only two seasons of 100-plus games-played may not be in the plans full-time for Oakland, but as long as he can produce like he is Fuld deserves a roster spot.

Every time number 29 steps to the plate or has a ball hit his way elicits an excitement that something electric is happening. He’s the one-man rally, the highlight reel grab, the game-changer in every sense of the word. It’s no wonder that he’s gained a cult-level status in his stops in Chicago and Tampa Bay. Rays fans watched the phenomena that was Fuld, dubbing the outfielder’s blossoming the so-called “Legend of Sam Fuld”. He soon saw his status elevated to tall-tale heights, with Chuck Norris jokes being altered to feature Fuld as the larger-than-life protagonist in Norris’ stead.

The Oakland A’s are now 2-0 when Bob Melvin pencils Fuld into the starting line-up. Perhaps it’s coincidence. Perhaps a season of Fuld can lift the Athletics over the playoff hump and bring the East Bay its first World Series title since 1989. Fuld’s future in the clubhouse at 7000 Coliseum way remains uncertain, but one thing is. A’s supporters would gladly watch Fuld’s legacy expand over this season over the likes of Punto or Gentry if it involves bringing the A’s more wins and some hardware in October.

Kazmir Shines, Bats Break Out For A’s First Win Of 2014

By Matthew Harrington

The first game of Tuesday’s twin bill between the Oakland Athletics and Cleveland Indians didn’t have the same pageantry or anticipation as Monday night’s Opening Day game at O.Co. That’s just fine for the A’s (1-1), who also welcomed a different end result, erasing the doubts of a 2-0 season-opening loss with a 6-1 thumping of the Tribe (1-1).

Left-hander Scott Kazmir (1-0, 0.00 ERA) fired 7 1/3 innings of three-hit, shutout baseball and an Oakland offense that stranded nine runners and mustered only five hits in Monday’s home opener exploded for a dozen base knocks and six runs. Tribe starter Corey Kluber (0-1, 13.50 ERA) departed after just 3 1/3 innings after surrendering five earned runs. Kazmir, facing the club that signed him to a career-reviving contract last season, quickly received the kind of run support Opening Day starter Sonny Gray is still waiting for.

After the southpaw dispatched the Indians in order in the first, center fielder Coco Crisp opened the A’s first at-bat by lacing the Corey Kluber 1-1 delivery to center. Designated hitter Josh Donaldson took strike three looking but Crisp put swiped his first bag of the season with to put himself in scoring position Jed Lowrie at the plate. Crisp then advanced to third on a deep pop fly by the shortstop. First baseman Brandon Moss drew a walk before Yoenis Cespedes brought Crisp home on a single to right for the first A’s run of the season. Josh Reddick grounded out to end the threat with the home team leading 1-0.

The bottom of the second mirrored the first with third baseman Alberto Callaspo and catcher Derek Norris, both making their season debuts Tuesday afternoon, singling back-to-back and second baseman Eric Sogard drawing a walk. With the bases loaded and no outs, Crisp lofted a sacrifice fly that plated Callaspo and moved Norris 90 feet from home plate.

Oakland Manager Bob Melvin used the first coach’s challenge in A’s history on the next batter after Donaldson bounced into a fielder’s choice. Carlos Santana fielded the grounder at the hot corner and fired home to cut an advancing Norris down at the plate. Melvin challenged the out ruling, but after 4 minutes and 45 seconds of deliberation it was ruled that there was insufficient evidence to overturn the call. Lowrie brought Sogard around from second on a single in the next at bat before Moss closed out the inning on a fly out to right fielder Elliot Johnson to strand a pair of runners.

For the third-straight inning, a member of the green and gold crossed home plate. Callaspo smoked a liner over right field wall with Reddick on first following a one-out walk to stake Oakland to a 5-0 edge with a third of the game played. Moss completed the A’s scoring by doubling in Lowrie on a 3-1 Vinnie Pestano fastball in the sixth. In total, the A’s three-though-seven hitters went a combined 8-for-19 after the heart of the line-up collected one hit in 15 trips to the plate Monday night.

Kazmir spared the A’s bullpen for the second half of Wednesday’s bizarre early season day-night double-header, a make-up of the first rain-out in 15 years at O.Co Tuesday night. One season removed from a 10-9, 4.04 ERA season with the Indians, allowed only four base runners with no walks and only one extra-base hit, a double by Mike Aviles with one out in the eighth inning that chased Kazmir. Aviles represented the first member of the Tribe to reach third base when Yan Gomes welcomed A’s reliever Dan Otero into the game with a ground out that advanced the runner. Aviles remained stranded at third after Elliot Johnson bounced out to Sogard for the third out

The Indians broke up the shutout, scoring in the ninth inning, their second-straight game against the A’s where they plated a run in the ninth after new Oakland closer Jim Johnson surrendered two runs in Monday night’s game to get saddled with the loss. Jason Kipnis doubled with two outs and Santana’s line drive single off Otero brought him home. Otero coaxed Ryan Raburn to ground out softly to the pitcher’s mound to finish off the game and seal the A’s 6-1 win.

The A’s enter the second of Wednesday’s two-game set in perfect position with only one reliever exhausted. Tribe starter Zach McAllister will be called on by Indians’ manager Terry Francona to go deep into the P.M. tilt after using four different relievers in the afternoon session. For Melvin’s A’s it will be right-hander Josh Lindblom on the bump. Lindblom was called as part of the special 26-man roster allotted for double-headers up to start game two over expected rotation candidates Dan Straily, Jesse Chavez and Tommy Milone. Lindblom appeared in eight games, including the only five starts he’s made over three seasons, pitching 31.1 innings with a 5.46 ERA.

A’s late come back falls short, lose to the Mariners 7-5

By Gabe Schapiro

This Saturday afternoon contest between the Oakland Athletics (95-66) and Seattle Mariners (71-90) quickly turned into a Mariners slugfest. Oakland made it interesting late, but couldn’t quite complete the come back, losing 7-5. Jarrod Parker, who has been fantastic for much of this season, simply didn’t have his best stuff today, getting hit early and often. Parker falls to 12-8 on the year. Opposing starter Brandon Maurer wasn’t great, but he got the job done.

Parker had an easy first inning, but he consistently struggled from there. Seattle started hammering away in the second inning. Raul Ibanez, a notorious headache for the A’s, reached on a walk, and Justin Smoak followed with a home run that just got over the right field wall, giving them a 2-0 lead.

A Coco Crips sacrifice fly got one of the runs back, but the Mariners bats immediately went back to work. Nick Franklin hit a line drive into the right field corner, but the arm of Josh Reddick managed to limit the damage, throwing him out at third trying for a triple. Unfortunately there was little time to appreciate the play, as the very next hitter, Brad Miller, launched Seattle’s second home run in as many innings, recapturing a two-run lead, 3-1.

Two innings later Miller flashed his power again, this time breaking the game wide open with a no-doubt-about-it grand slam, chasing Parker from the game with Oakland down 7-1.

The A’s bullpen managed to restore some order, and stifled the Seattle offense over the final few innings. At the same time, the Oakland bats started to come alive and the Mariners pen started to stumble.

Oakland added a run in the sixth, and then in the seventh back-to-back home runs from Brandon Moss and Alberto Callaspo, Moss’s 30th on the year, brought the A’s to within just two. They loaded the bases in the eighth, but failed to come up with the big clutch hit.

The comeback attempt fizzled out from there, as Oakland went down 1-2-3 in the ninth inning.

With today’s results, it is official that the A’s will get a chance at revenge when they take on the Detroit Tigers in the first round of the playoffs, a rematch of last seasons ALDS. The dates and times are still to-be-determined.

Tomorrow marks the final day of the regular season, as the Oakland and Seattle wrap up this three game series at 1:10 PM.

Game Notes: Jared Lowrie hit his 45th double of the season, two behind Jason Giambi for the single season Oakland record… Moss is the first A’s player with 30+ home runs in a season since Reddick last season, and Jack Cust in 2008….with the A’s loss and a Red Sox win today, Boston has clinched home field advantage through the postseason. Oakland had already clinched home field for at least the ALDS.

A’s bounce back with unconventional lineup

By Morris Phillips

PhotoSunday afternoon wasn’t like Saturday night for the Oakland A’s.

The A’s shed their recent struggles and produced a solid, all-around effort in beating the Indians, 7-3, to capture the weekend series and move closer to Texas in the AL West.

Tommy Milone returned from the minors and pitched effectively into the fifth inning and left with the game tied at 3. From that point, the Oakland offense and the bullpen handled the rest. Chris Young and Alberto Callaspo homered in the bottom of the fifth to break the tie and A’s relievers kept the Indians scoreless over the final 4 1/3 innings.

“That’s when we’re at our best, when we have equal parts and we can trust everybody up and down the lineup. That’s been our key offensively,” Jed Lowrie said of the fifth inning surge in which the A’s number six and eight hitters went yard.

The A’s left the Coliseum in a haze Saturday night having accumulated just three hits in a 7-1 loss that dropped them below .500 since the All Star break. The lack of offense stands as the biggest reason for the second half slump but on Sunday the A’s banged out 12 hits and saw good swinging bats up and down the lineup. Five A’s had multiple hits including Callaspo who was 3 for 4.

Manager Bob Melvin shook up his lineup for the series finale with Lowrie and Derek Norris at the top the lineup and Nate Freiman spelling Brandon Moss and hitting fifth. Unconventional? Absolutely, but it worked right down to the hits, the mid-game rally and in the absence of a big game from cleanup hitter Yoenis Cespedes who was 0 for 5 with two strikeouts.

Cespedes made his contribution defensively by throwing out Nick Swisher trying to stretch a single into a double in the seventh. Young made a spectacular catch in the eighth that kept Michael Brantley from getting extra bases.

Scott Kazmir started for Cleveland after an eight-day break and struggled. Kazmir allowed 10 hits and five runs, including both homers in the fifth, and took the loss. Kazmir has resurrected his career in 2013 but the Coliseum brings out the worst in the former Rays’ ace. Kazmir allowed two home runs equaling his home runs allowed over his previous nine starts. On July 10, 2010 Kazmir allowed 11 hits and 13 earned runs in a not-so-memorable start for the Angels at the Coliseum.

The A’s are a half-game out of first place and a half-game behind Tampa Bay in the wild card hunt with 39 games to play. Oakland continues their home stand Monday with the Mariners visiting.