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.