By Matthew Harrington
OAKLAND, Calif. –Few teams can say they own All-World talent Yu Darvish, staff ace for the Texas Rangers. The Oakland Athletics can stake claim to that distinction, sporting a 6-1 lifetime record against the Japanese import including a sterling 2-0 record against the international sensation at O.Co Coliseum. Though Darvish didn’t manage his first win in his career in the confines of Alameda County Monday evening, his Rangers outlasted the Oakland A’s (13-6), erasing a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 victory.
“It was a very competitive game,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin. “It was about as close as you can get. They had their ace on the mound. We had them on the run early but recovered well enough to keep him in the game and go to their key bullpen guys.”
Neal Cotts (1-1, 3.38 ERA) picked up the win in relief, Shin-Soo Choo homered for the Rangers (12-8) and former Oakland middle infielder Donnie Murphy singled in the go-ahead run in the eighth inning to lead the Rangers to a come-from-behind triumph over the American League West leaders. Brandon Moss hit his fourth round tripper of the season and Coco Crisp moved into sole possession of fourth place on the A’s career stolen base list, swiping two bags to move past Carney Lansford with 147 pilferings in his time in green and gold. Crisp also made an incredible leaping catch in center with his back to home plate, but came up lame clutching his ribs on a diving attempt later in the game.
“We’ll see how he feels tomorrow,” said Melvin. “It’s the second time he’s dove and knicked that area up a little bit.”
Dan Straily battled Darvish pitch-for-pitch before relinquishing a tied game to his bullpen in the sixth inning. Texas saddled reliever Sean Doolittle (0-1, 3.38 ERA) with the loss after the lefty struggled in the eighth to snuff out a Ranger rally. Jason Frasor, Cotts, Alexi Ogando and Joakim Soria held the A’s scoreless over three innings of relief.
Choo greeted Straily with his 12th career leadoff homerun, launching a liner to right for his second long ball of the season and a 1-0 Rangers Lead. Choo later left the game in the seventh inning after suffering left leg tightness when he grounded out on a slow roller to third. Josh Donaldson barehanded the ball for the bang-bang play at first with Choo originally being called safe by first base umpire Adrian Johnson. Melvin challenged the play and, after the replay was reviewed, the call of safe on the field was overturned by crew chief Larry Vanover.
“I heard that he was out,” said Melvin. “Based on the replay I was seeing, I wasn’t sure about it. At that point in time I’m going to challenge it anyway. After the seventh inning the umpires get together, so that was one I would probably challenge either way.”
Moss answered Choo’s dinger with a solo shot of his own in the home half of second, depositing a Darvish delivery just inside the foul pole and beyond the fence. For Moss, the four-bagger marks his fourth of the season and fourth-career off Darvish. Moss accounts for 4 of 41 total career round-trippers for Darvish, nearly ten percent.
The Athletics rally continued when a two-out single to left by Crisp brought Josh Reddick and Eric Sogard around for a two-run edge. It would complete all the scoring Oakland mustered off Darvish, who saw his string of consecutive seven-plus innings starts snapped at three 2014 appearances.
“When he’s out there, we know it’s going to be a pretty low-scoring game,” said Donaldson of Darvish. “We jumped out pretty early. Early on he was coming at us, throwing harder. He ran it up to 96 (miles per hour) then once he got settled in, he started changing speeds which is what he does best.”
The 56-million-dollar man came into play Monday with a 0.82 ERA after allowing two runs in 22 innings on the campaign, but the A’s nearly doubled his ERA to a still-miniscule 1.61 with their three earned runs over six innings. Monday also marked the first time in nine-straight starts that an opposing team scored more than two runs on last season’s batting-average-against leader. Darvish collected six punch-outs in the no-decision, firing a laboring 116 pitches.
Texas cut the deficit in half off Straily after Prince Fielder opened the fourth inning with a double to the corner in left followed by a RBI single by Ex-Athletic Kevin Kouzmanoff. Straily settled down to retire the next three batters in order. Kouzmanoff, the reigning American League Player of the Week for his 10-for-29 performance with two home runs and eight RBIs, finished the day with two hits, an RBI and scored the game-winning run.
A two-out rally in the visiting portion of the fifth inning led to the game-tying run. Fielder hit the third of three consecutive singles to plate Elvis Andrus. Straily then threw a wild pitch to put Alex Rios, the second single of the trio, and Fielder in scoring position, but got Kouzmanoff to chase a 1-2 slider to end the inning and close the book on his day.
“He was spotty at times,” said Melvin on his starting pitcher. “He recovered nicely from the first batter in the game hitting a home run. He had two outs in the fifth and tried to finish that one off, couldn’t do it. At times I thought he threw the ball well, there were times he was maybe a little bit off his command.”
Straily’s pitching line including five innings of work with three runs, all earned on 84 pitches. He struck out six and walked only two but turned the game over to Ryan Cook with no chance at being named the winning pitcher.
“Tonight I was pretty proud of myself,” said Straily. “I never really felt like I was out of any at-bats except having to work my way back into it early. I don’t really feel too down on myself. My first-pitch command was just terrible tonight. That’s something you can’t have out there. I gave it everything I had, I just wasn’t able to get it done there in the fifth.”
Oakland looked poised to add a cushion to its lead after Daric Barton singled to center on a soft liner, marking the fourth-straight inning the A’s leadoff man reached base. Sogard bounced into the momentum-sapping double play but Crisp and catcher John Jaso reached base then stole third and second respectively with Jed Lowrie at the plate. Lowrie coaxed a two-out walk to load the bases for Josh Donaldson, but the “Bringer of Rain” continued an A’s drought with runners in scoring position on the night. Donaldson went around on a check-swing for the third strike on a ball low in the strike zone.
“It’s just one of those things,” said Donaldson. “He’s a good pitcher. He started to bear down on us a little bit. We came up there with the bases loaded and he came in there with a pretty good slider for strike three. The guy’s good. He’s not just your run-of –the-mill guy.”
Donaldson represented one one of seven A’s outs in 10 opportunities with runners on second or third. The A’s left 10 men on base Monday.
“The goal is to get guys on base,” said Donaldson. “We were able to do that. More times than not when we’re going to come through in those situations. Tonight was one of those days where it didn’t happen.”
Ryan Cook and Fernando Abad combined to pitch a scoreless inning apiece before turning the game over to heir-apparent to the closer role, Sean Doolittle, in the eighth inning. Doolittle recently received a five-year extension with the A’s that many suspect puts him in line to take over the ninth inning role at some point in his career. Oakland fans hope Monday doesn’t represent a harbinger of things to come from the bearded southpaw.
Texas opened Doolittle’s frame with Kouzmanoff rocketing a ball to right center that Reddick couldn’t snag on a leap at the wall. Designated hitter Mitch Moreland advanced Kouzmanoff to third on a sacrifice bunt then Kouzmanoff scored on a Murphy bouncer up the middle, the game-winning base knock. Doolittle got Leonys Martin to fly out for the second out before being lifted for Dan Otero. Otero finished off the inning, then pitched a scoreless ninth to keep Oakland within one.
“After they got the bunt down, I snuck one past Murphy,” said Doolittle. “I thought I was going to find a way to get him out. I was doing a good job of staying short. I thought I made a good pitch. The pitch to Kouzmanoff was not a good pitch. The pitch to Murphy was well-executed. He just did a good job of smoking it back up the middle.”
Rangers manager Ron Washington, a former infield coach with the A’s, called on his closer Soria to shut the door on the A’s in the ninth. Soria got Jaso to strike out for the fourth time Monday night before Lowrie reached base then advanced to second on an error at short by Andrus. Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes, who nearly tied the game on a deep drive in a pinch-hit pop-out in the seventh, lifted fly balls for the final two outs and Soria’s fourth save of the season.
“I thought when he hit it, it was out,” said Melvin of Cespedes’ loud out in the seventh. “I know on a cold night it’s difficult here, especially in the big part of the ball park. He hits one good and it normally goes out.”
The A’s will look to get on track again in Tuesday night’s tilt which will feature Tommy Milone opposing Rangers right-hander Nick Martinez before a finale between young pitching sensations Sonny Gray and Martin Perez Wednesday afternoon. The Rangers will look to hand Oakland its first loss of more than two runs this season.