OAKLAND--One night after Jon Lester's three-hit shutout of the Minnesota Twins, A's teammate Scott Kazmir was threatening to match him.
Kazmir's line shows that he allowed five runs in a 6-5 victory over the Twins at the Coliseum on Friday night. However, it bears noting that Kazmir was perfect through four innings and allowed only one base runner through six innings. Lester carried a perfect game into the sixth the previous night.
"Up until that point, it was as good as we've seen him pitch all year," A's manager Bob Melvin said of Kazmir.
After six innings, the A's led 6-0 and Kazmir had plenty of room for error. As it turned out, Kazmir used up all the room he could afford before the A's bullpen bailed him out and preserved his 13th victory of the season.
"For us to be able to hang on and get a win for him is huge," closer Sean Doolittle said after he recorded his 18th save. "He pitched so well all night. He just hit a speed bump, had one bad inning. As a bullpen, you take pride in stuff like that and being able to stop the bleeding and slam the door shut."
Doolittle's save marked a franchise single-season record for a left-hander. The 21/3 scoreless innings by Ryan Cook, Luke Gregerson and Doolittle extended the A's bullpen scoreless streak to an Oakland record 282/3 innings.
"They've been on a roll, no doubt about it¦," Melvin said. "We got a lot of quality down there, depth."
Melvin said it took awhile to figure out which player was best suited to each role. One of the key moves was Doolittle replacing Jim Johnson as the closer.
Now, just as in years past, the A's thrive in close games because of a bullpen stocked with dependable relievers.
"That's one of the things that makes our bullpen so good is the amount of pride and how badly they want to be in situations like (Friday night)," Doolittle said, "when the momentum may have shifted toward their dugout and we were able to come in and finish it out."
The A's upped their lead in the American League West to four games as a result of the win and an Angels loss. It's their largest advantage since July 8, when they held a 41/2-game lead.
The A's also improved to 71-44, the first time they have been 27 games over .500 this season. They failed in their previous three attempts.
The success of Kazmir (13-4) is a big reason why the A's are where they are this late in the season.
He has pitched well from the moment he put on an A's uniform.
At the same time, there's something to be said for feeding off the energy and drive of a savvy veteran such as Lester, obtained in the July 31 trade with Boston. Lester has thrived in every kind of situation, all the way to the World Series.
Lester was perfect through five innings Thursday night. Kazmir one-upped Lester by facing the minimum through six.
"It looked like one of those games where he may finish the game," Melvin said.
Kazmir didn't throw his 10th ball until one out in the fifth inning. Still, as he has done most times this season, he pitched well enough.
"I almost felt like I started to get cute a little bit out there throughout the seventh inning," Kazmir said. "I was throwing my secondary pitches a lot more than just go out and attack the guys."
--The A's improved to 5-0 against the Twins this season and 11-0 since late last season.
--Third baseman Josh Donaldson extended his hitting streak against the Twins to 15 games with a two-out double in the first inning.
--The A's haven't scored in the first inning in 17 straight games. This is the longest such streak since 1996, when they also went 17 games.
--Shortstop Jed Lowrie returned to the starting lineup after having missed three straight starts with a bruised right index finger. He pinch-hit Thursday.
Lowrie said he doesn't feel 100 percent but that the swelling has subsided enough for him to throw without discomfort.
--Kyle Blanks will play in a game for Triple-A Sacramento on Saturday as part of his continued rehabilitation from a calf injury. Melvin said he isn't sure when Blanks will come off the disabled list.
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