By Jason Wojciechowski on July 2, 2004 at 7:08 PM
I guess I spoke too soon. The A's finished off a sweep of the Angels last night, despite my comment that things looked grim, as the players I worried about, Barry Zito and Kirk Saarloos, both came through. I talked about Zito yesterday, but Saarloos did a fine job through five innings last night, giving up five hits (one double), one walk, and hitting Jose Guillen, but not allowing a run.
Saarloos had been up and down in AAA this year, pitching atrociously in the early-going in New Orleans (Houston's system), before pitching pretty decently for Sacramento. He only threw 75 pitches, so Ken Macha probably wanted to get him out of there while the going was still good. The plan worked for an inning, as Justin Lehr threw a scoreless sixth (a minor league closer pitching well? Who'd-a thunk?) before getting popped around a little in the seventh (spoke too soon) giving up a homer (to Jose Molina!), single, single, walk, RBI fielder's choice, before being relieved by Ricardo Rincon. At this point, the score was 6-2, since the A's had put up a four-spot in the previous half-inning. Rincon was only in to pitch to one batter, Garrett Anderson, but Anderson came through with a single, scoring David Eckstein and closing the lead to three. Chad Bradford came on, though, and with runners on the corners and one out, struck out Guillen and Robb Quinlan (sandwiched around a walk to Jeff DaVanon, loading the bases) to end the threat.
Anaheim went relatively quietly from there, with Octavio Dotel relieving Bradford to pitch the ninth (again), while the A's added an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth, a Damian Miller homer (his second of the game) off of Troy Percival.
All in all, A's fans have to be pretty happy about this game. The decent pitching was there, 14 out of 36 batters reached base, and this time, seven of them scored, since the power I've been complaining about finally came through: aside from Miller's two homers, Jermaine Dye and Bobbys Kielty and Crosby each added one. Crosby's homer continues adding to his Rookie of the Year case, and Dye's put him in ninth place in the AL home run rankings, solidfying his case for a mythical Comeback Player of the Year award.
The returns to expected production levels by Dye and Durazo, as well as the Renaissance of Scott Hatteberg (a new movie by Ron Howard, due in November) and the emergence of Bobby Crosby, are driving this team to offensive respectability, a position the A's seemed to have forgotten it was possible to strive for.
The win combined with a Texas loss put the A's a half game back of first place. Since Boston lost that crazy game to the Yankees last night, Oakland's also two games up in wild card terms. Texas has to deal with Houston tonight, while the A's face the Giants: San Francisco is tied with Oakland in wins, but has two more losses, while Houston is 40-38, and second from the bottom in their division. That said, especially after the Carlos Beltran trade, I'd rather take on a team with an 11-run differential and Michael Tucker and Marquis Grissom in the outfield (Giants) than one with a 36-run differential and a Beltran/Lance Berkman outfield (Astros).
On the other hand, the A's didn't look good against San Francisco last time around, and Texas hasn't really showed any signs of coming to earth, so I shouldn't get overly optimistic.