By Matthew Harrington
Jesse Chavez once again produced a quality start, his third of the season, Monday night in Anaheim, but yet again the converted reliever-turned-starter headed off to the showers without a chance at being named the winning pitcher. Just like his previous two starts, Chavez’ offense rallied in its last at-bat to give the Athletics (9-4) a win. The A’s, owners of the best record in the American League, triumphed in their starter’s previous two efforts in extra innings.
Backed by a pinch-hit, two-run home run by John Jaso in the top of the ninth inning, Oakland stole a 3-2 come-from-behind victory to open up a three-game series against the Angels (6-7)at Angel Stadium. Yoenis Cespedes also homered, deposed closer Jim Johnson (1-2, 9.95 ERA) pitched a scoreless eighth inning for his first win in green and gold and Luke Gregerson’s one-two-three ninth-inning save closed the door.
Chavez struggled in the bottom of the first, surrendering a two-strike single to leadoff hitter Kole Calhoun. The lefty caught phenom Mike Trout watching a nasty curveball for strike three, but Calhoun had already advanced to second when miscommunication between catcher Derek Norris and Chavez resulting in a passed ball earlier in the at-bat. Albert Pujols laced a single through the left side to plate Calhoun for a 1-0 lead.
Chavez cruised through the rest of his appearance, pitching seven innings, surrendering four hits and only one earned run on nine strikeouts. The lone earned run came off the bat of Pujols who crushed a homer to center field in the third inning, his 496th long ball of his career. Pujols now moves into lone possession of 26th place on the all-time long fly list.
Angels starter Hector Santiago countered Chavez, pitching seven innings of one-run ball with five hits and three punch-outs. Cespedes’ third homer, a solo shot to right center to make it 2-1 Angels in the fourth inning proved the lone blemish to Santiago’s ERA. The A’s outfielder now has home runs in consecutive games after going yard off Charlie Furbush in the A’s 3-0 win in Seattle Sunday.
The Halos Joe Smith and Oakland’s Johnson pitched scoreless eighths for their respective clubs, opening the door for Jaso’s fireworks in the ninth. Josh Donaldson, owner of a now eight game hitting streak, welcomed Angels closer Ernesto Frieri to the top of the ninth with a single. Cespedes then hit a deep fly out to center for the first out on a 2-2 count. Cespedes had asked for time from home plate Tim Welke, but was denied his request on the pitch. A’s manager Bob Melvin then called on Jaso to pinch hit for Norris after the backstop went 0-for-3 against Santiago.
Last season, Oakland finished dead last in batting average for pinch hitters with 20 hits in 139 substitute at-bats. Jaso entered Monday hitting .200 as a pinch hitter with a lone home run. He turned on a 1-2 offering from Frieri and deposited deep in the right field bleachers to put the A’s ahead 3-2. With Frieri (0-1, 6.75 ERA) lifted after his first blown save of the season, Jose Alvarez finished off the final two-thirds of the ninth.
Melvin tabbed Gregerson to be the closer-by-committee candidate Monday evening, and the right-hander reward his manager with a perfect inning. Gregerson produced ground outs by Ibanez and Howie Kendrick, the latter of which came on a bang-bang play challenged by Angels Manager Mike Scoscia but upheld after replay proved inconclusive to overturn the out call on the field. Gregerson coaxed a fly out from former World Series MVP (then with the St. Louis Cardinals)David Freese to notch his second save of the campaign and pick up the A’s 14th win in their last 20 games at Angel Stadium.
Oakland and Los Angeles faceoff in game two of the three-game set Tuesday night, with Dan Straily (1-1, 2.77 ERA) tabbed by Melvin to take the slab. He’ll be countered by Garret Richards (2-0, 0.75 ERA) who enters play Tuesday with only one earned run allowed over 12 innings.