ARLINGTON, Texas--It might not have been a knockout punch, but the 9-8 victory the Athletics scratched out over the Rangers on Friday night at least was a kick in the shins that will have Texas limping down the stretch in the American League West.
Oakland expanded its lead in the division to 4?1/2 games by winning the first of a three-game series after holding off a furious late rush by the Rangers, who were down by seven runs entering the eighth inning. By holding on, the Athletics gifted Dan Straily with his 10th win, his fourth in succession.
There are 15 games left in the Athletics season, 16 for the Rangers. It's not impossible for Texas to track down Oakland, but right now it's the Athletics who are surging and the Rangers who are hearing boos at Rangers Ballpark--or at least they were for the first seven innings.
Texas, down 9-2 in the sixth, mounted a comeback in the eighth, but that mostly had to do with three walks issued by Oakland pitchers, one of whom, Brett Anderson, came out of the game because of back spasms.
Jesse Chavez gave up two hits, but got two outs. Ryan Cook gave up two hits and a walk and got no outs. It was up to Sean Doolittle to shut down the inning with the Athletics still leading, and he gave up a single only to see left fielder Yoenis Cespedes throw out Alex Rios at third base on a call the Rangers bitterly disputed. Rios was ejected, and pitcher Matt Garza, yelling from the dugout, was tossed a few minutes later.
Although closer Grant Balfour had been up in the bullpen, Doolittle was allowed to finish it in the ninth. He got two quick strikeouts, then pinch hitter Robinson Chirinos doubled, bringing up Jurickson Profar. Doolittle struck him out looking.
The Athletics are 9-3 in September while the Rangers are 2-9. Texas had a two-game lead on Oakland when the month began, but that seems like an eternity ago.
Cespedes began the scoring with a three-run homer in the first, and Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss added solo homers in the third and sixth, respectively, as the Athletics' power surge continued unabated. Oakland has 52 homers in its past 34 games, the best total in the major leagues over that span.
The eighth inning started with Anderson on in relief, He walked the only two men he faced, then left the game with back spasms. After that, Athletics relievers did little right. Chavez got two strikeouts but also gave up two singles, and Cook took over.
His pitches were all over the place. He walked one, then gave up a single. After a passed ball charged to catcher Kurt Suzuki, Cook surrendered a two-run single to Rios. The Athletics went to Doolittle, and Adrian Beltre ripped a single, but when Rios tried to go from first to third, he was thrown out, leading to his ejection.
The booing started early as Oakland struck almost immediately against Texas left-hander Derek Holland, with Coco Crisp opening with a single and Donaldson drawing a walk. Holland got one out, then had a chance for a second when he got ahead of Cespedes 0-2.
Cespedes jumped on the two-strike pitch, however, and launched it out to left-center. It was the continuation of an RBI surge for the left fielder, who has driven in at least one run in seven consecutive games.
The Rangers got two runs back in the bottom of the first on an RBI single from Beltre and a sacrifice fly by A.J. Pierzynski.
Donaldson stretched his hitting streak to nine games with a solo homer leading off the third, then came up with two on and one out an inning later and delivered a two-run double. That made for the eighth multiple-hit performance in his past 16 games.
The fifth inning saw Suzuki and Crisp both deliver with the bases loaded. Suzuki drew a walk, Crisp hit a sacrifice fly, and the lead improved to 8-2. It was 9-2 after the top of the sixth when Moss, who came into the game as a pinch hitter two innings earlier, crushed his 27th homer, nine coming in his past 23 games.
Straily, who threw 38 pitches in the first inning, wasn't in trouble again until the sixth, when a single, also by Beltre, a hit by pitch and a walk loaded the bases with two out. That and the fact that Straily had thrown 104 pitches on a steamy night, prompted manager Bob Melvin to go to the bullpen for left-hander Jerry Blevins, who got an inning-ending ground ball.
Friday was the second time in the past three games in which each Athletics starter got at least one hit. And the only starter not to score was Jed Lowrie.
For the first 130 games of the year or so, Moss was the Athletics first baseman, plain and simple. Now he's likely to play at least some outfield in addition to first base so that Oakland can get left-handed-hitting first baseman Daric Barton some at-bats. Barton is hitting .349 since being called up the last week of August.
Straily is 4-0 with a 1.90 ERA with Suzuki catching him the last four times out. During that stretch, opponents are hitting just .181 off Straily.
In the seven-game RBI streak, Cespedes has 12 RBIs. For the season he has 74.
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