Rangers Derail A’s Comeback, Rout Athletics 14-8

By Matthew Harrington

OAKLAND, Calif. — When the Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers last met at O.Co Coliseum for a three-game set April 21-23, the visitors scored 12 runs total en route to a sweep. The series marked a tightly-pitched affair after Rangers hurlers stifled the potent A’s offense to just seven runs and three-straight losses. The A’s welcomed Texas back to Alameda County Monday night in a game no one would confuse for a pitchers’ duel. Texas tallied 14 runs while the A’s scored eight runs, both surpassing the team totals from the April set at the Coliseum.

Rangers first baseman Donnie Murphy picked up three RBIs on a pair of home runs, his fourth career multi-homer game while Yoenis Cespedes went 1 for 3 with four runs batted in for the A’s. Brandon Moss also homered for Oakland, but four Texas long balls lifted the Rangers (35-35) passed the Green and Gold 14-8. The loss matches the second-largest margin of defeat the A’s (42-28) have suffered all season, with only last Friday’s 7-0 shutout at the hands of the Yankees marking a worse run differential.

Neither starting pitcher hurled a memorable game but Rangers righty Colby Lewis (5-4, 5.97 ERA) threw well enough to pick up the win. He went 5 1/3 innings allowing fives runs. Pomeranz (5-4, 2.91) struggled to complete 3 2/3 innings, serving up eight Texas runs (seven earned) on eight hits on start removed from a seven inning, one-run performance against the Los Angeles Angels.

“I wasn’t as sharp in the beginning,” said Pomeranz. “I actually felt really good up there. They were patient at the plate. I didn’t make some pitches, they just waited for some mistakes.”
The A’s bullpen yielded six runs, with Ryan Cook , Jeff Francis and Fernando Abad all guilty of surrendering two runs apiece. The A’s committed three errors.

After Pomeranz held the Rangers in check to open the first inning, Coco Crisp had the A’s running right out of the gate. Crisp ripped a 2-2 pitch to left-center for a double, then came around to score on John Jaso’s flare to shallow center. Jaso, one of three catchers in A’s manager Bob Melvin’s line-up, advanced to second base on the throw to the plate. Lewis gifted Jaso third base after bouncing a wild pitch to backstop Robinson Chirinos. The free base allowed Jaso to score easily after Cespedes lofted the 2-1 delivery to left fielder Michael Choice for the sacrifice fly.

“We had some opportunities early,” said Melvin. “We went ahead 2-0. We had some opportunities in the next inning and we didn’t come through. We didn’t play a great game after that. Even though in the later innings we came back and made a game of it, it was just not far enough.”

Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios reached base to open the second, then advanced into scoring position on a Donnie Murphy sacrifice bunt. Chirinos then wrapped a two-run base hit to tie the ballgame after battling Pomeranz in a full count.

Former A’s utility man Donnie Murphy provided the tie-shattering blast in the fourth inning, depositing a no-out, two-run home run over the wall in deep left center. The first basemen entered play amidst a 0-for-14 cold snap at the plate before emphatically turning around his fortunes. The Rangers tacked on four more runs in the inning, highlighted by a two-out, two-run double off the bat of former American League All-star Beltre for a comfortable 8-2 advantage.

Michael Choice, the Rangers haul for shipping Craig Gentry to Oakland in the offseason, burned his former parent club with a two-run shot of his own. The dinger snapped 16 at-bats without a hit for the right-hander, placing Choice amongst Chirinos (3), Beltre (3) and Murphy (3) for Rangers with two RBIs or more Monday night. Chirinos and Murphy would later hit back-to-back homers off Fernando Abad in the ninth inning, the first two extra-base hits the southpaw has allowed this season.

A’s clean-up hitter Brandon Moss lifted his 17th home run of the season to bring Oakland within seven runs. Moss now has 31 big flys since the 2013 All-Star Break, tied with Edwin Encarnacion for the second most in the Major Leagues during that time. The Lone Star sluggers answered back, scoring on a rare sacrifice fly to third base for their 11th run.

Oakland scratched out a run of its own in the bottom half of the inning after back-to-back doubles from Alberto Callaspo and Coco Crisp to chase Lewis after four runs. Callaspo, returning from paternity leave Monday night, went 4 for 5 while sporting a new uniform number. The A’s second basemen donned a “7” between his shoulder blades Monday night.

Cespedes added three runs on a towering shot later in the inning, his 13th homer of the season, to cut the deficit to 11-7. Callaspo chipped in a run-scoring base hit in the eighth.

Kyle Blanks, who entered the game as a pinch hitter for John Jaso in the sixth, came up to the plate in the eighth representing the tying run with Callaspo at second and Vogt at first. He worked a full count off Neal Cotts but froze on a fastball right at the knees for strike three. In total, the A’s stranded 12 runners.
The Rangers added three more runs over the final two innings while holding the A’s in check despite a two-hit ninth inning rally.

“We scored some runs tonight,” said Melvin. “We’re a club that leads the league in pitching. We’re used to holding teams under four runs. The last couple games we haven’t been able to do that.”

Submariner Ben Rowen finished off the win, coaxing a ground ball out from Blanks to wrap up game one of the series. Tuesday’s match-up won’t be any easier for the A’s, with Texas sending Yu Darvish and his 2.11 ERA to the mound to face Tommy Milone.

Rangers Sweep A’s Out Of First Place, Steal AL’s Best Record on Perez’s Complete-Game Shutout

By Matthew Harrington

For the first time in the 2014 season, the Oakland Athletics failed to pick up a single win in a series, dropping the Wednesday matinee finale 3-0 to suffer a sweep at the hands of the Texas Rangers at O.Co Coliseum. Southpaw Martin Perez (4-0, 1.42 ERA) out-dueled A’s ace Sonny Gray,  taming the potent Oakland offense in a complete game, three-hit shutout. The win improbably propels the Rangers (14-8), battered with injuries to key personnel at nearly every spot on the diamond, over the A’s to the best record in the American League and first place in the division.

The A’s (13-8) only had one batter advance past first base all afternoon. Josh Donaldson doubled on a line drive to Michael Choice in left field with one down in the bottom of the seventh but the A’s failed to convert on the opportunity with a man in scoring position. Perez followed up Oakland’s other two base-hits, singles by Jed Lowrie and catcher Derek Norris, by inducing the next batter to bounce into a double-play each time. Lowrie, Donaldson and Norris were the only A’s base runners all afternoon, as Donaldson and Norris also drew the only two walks for the green and gold.

A couple of players with ties to the A’s, including former prospect Michael Choice and one-time utility infielder Donnie Murphy, collected run-scoring base hits to lead the visitors over the A’s for Oakland’s first loss by more than two runs this season.

Texas touched Gray (3-1, 2.25 ERA) up for a run in the first inning after the A’s starter gave up a walk to ex-Athletics farmhand Michael Choice. Gray bounced back to strike out Elvis Andrus, finishing off the shortstop looking on a masterful 80 mph curveball. Gray didn’t fare as well against Alex Rios who ripped an 0-1 fastball to left field for an RBI triple and a 1-0. The Rangers scored in the first inning in all three games of the series.

With Rios 90 feet from home and only one out, the Rangers appeared on the verge of a big inning. The clean-up hitter Prince Fielder appeared to expand the visiting team advantage after grounding a Gray offering to shortstop Jed Lowrie. Lowrie made the heads up play to try to cut an advancing Rios down at home plate, but home plate umpire Larry Vanover signaled Rios safe on the tag play. After A’s manager Bob Melvin challenged the play, the call on the field was overturned and the second run of the game became the second out instead.

The Rangers tagged Gray with another run after Leonys Martin singled to open the fifth then came around on Choice’s one-out single to center fielder Craig Gentry. Choice, Oakland’s no. 3 prospect in 2013 according to Baseball America, came over in the December trade that brought Gentry and Josh Lindblom to Alameda County. The A’s also shipped infielder Chris Bostick, the only player in the deal without Major League experience this year, to the Lone Star state.

One inning later Donnie Murphy wrapped up the scoring, launching a 3-1 fastball over the wall in left for a 3-0 Rangers lead. Gray fed Murphy a steady diet of fastballs in the at-bat, throwing five-straight heaters to the Rangers second sacker.

Gray pitched another scoreless inning but his offense couldn’t pick him up in the end. He headed to the showers down 3-0 on five hits and three earned runs. Gray struck out eight and walked four. Drew Pomeranz and Jim Johnson finished up the loss with a scoreless inning a piece.

Oakland hits the road for the next 10 games, heading to both American League outposts in Texas before a trip to Boston to face the defending World Series Champion Red Sox. The A’s open the road trip with a quartet against the Houston Astros, a team the A’s swept before seeing roles reversed against the Rangers. Scott Kazmir will take the mound for the second consecutive game against the ‘Stros. The veteran hurler pitched eight innings and surrendered three runs, two earned, but picked up the no decision on April 19th. Just like in that Saturday Showdown, he’ll be opposed by winless lefty Brett Oberholtzer. Oberholtzer gave up a lone run in five and two-third innings of work against the A’s.

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.

The A’s win, back in first place

By Jerry Feitelberg

The A’s, just a game behind the Rangers, opened a three game series with the Division leaders starting on Labor Day. This is going to be a huge series. The A’s will need to win two out three to be even with Texas for the division lead. The last thing either team wants to be is a Wild Card Entry. The Rangers found that out last year when they lost a one game playoff to the Orioles and were eliminated.

The 23,495 people who were here in attendance were not disappointed as the A’s beat the Rangers 4-2 and  the A’s moved into a first place tie with the Rangers. Dan Straily started for the A’s and went five innings getting credit for his eighth win of the year. The Rangers’ starter, Derek Holland, took the loss. Both teams now have an identical record of 79-58 with 25 games left in the season.

The A’s took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second. Yoenis Cespedes hit a solo home run for his 21st home run of the year. Alberto Callaspo doubled and scored on a single by Chris Young.  The Rangers tied the game in the top of the fifth. Straily walked Mitch Moreland to start the inning and Moreland scored when David Murphy homered to tie the score.

The A’s came back to take the lead for good in the bottom of the fifth. Michael Choice reached first on a throwing error by Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre. Coco Crisp followed with a home run that barely made it over the left field wall and the umpires called it a home run but decided to review the play. After a minute or two, the umps came back and ruled in the A’s favor. A’s now lead 4-2.

There was no more scoring. Bob Melvin used four relievers to close out the Rangers. The Rangers did threaten a couple of times. Dan Otero worked out of a jam in the sixth and Grant Balfour had men on second and third with two outs in the ninth. Balfour got Beltre to ground out to end the game and earn his 36th save of the year.

Game notes- The A’s have won four straight and seven of the last eight and are in first place since August 9th. Dan Straily is 3-1 with in ERA of 2.63 during day games. Strailly when asked after the game if there was any extra pressure on him for this game replied “Not really, but you understand the magnitude of the situation.”  Coco Crisp hit his 17th home run of the year which is a career high. Crisp has homered 7 times in his last 12 games. Crisp left the game with when he hit a foul ball off his right shin. Bob Melvin said “it is a right shin contusion and we’ll see how he is tomorrow.”  Michael Choice made his Major League debut and walked his first time up and reached on an error. Melvin said Choice reaching on the error”was a huge play in the game.” Melvin used Brett Anderson in relief.  Melvin said that he would keep him there for a while as the starting rotation is ok. Grant Balfour picked up his 36th save of the year but it was not easy. However, Balfour worked out the jam and Melvin commented that “Balfour had to find a little extra will and would have to make a pitch and get out of the game.”

Game two of the three game series will be Tuesday night at the Coliseum. Game time will be 7pm.

Bartolo Colon(14-5) will start for the A’s and the Rangers’ will send  lefty Martin Perez(8-3) to the mound.

Game time 2 hours and 28 minutes.