After a solid start to the season, the Oakland Athletics haven’t exactly been lighting up the scoreboard throughout the dog days of summer.
Thus when the A’s travel to Detroit to take on a Tigers lineup that has scored more runs than any other team in the Majors, one would assume that Oakland would be the team playing catchup with big bats like Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in the opposing dugout.
That wasn’t the case Monday night, and thanks to a 3-for-6 night from Coco Crisp and two RBIs from recent call up Daric Barton, the A’s never trailed against the leaders in the AL Central, going 5-for-15 with runners in scoring position with the pitching staff holding on for an 8-6 win in the first matchup of a four-game series against the Detroit Tigers.
A.J. Griffin pitched five innings, and although he gave up two more home runs to bring his Major League-leading total to 32 on the season, he was generally effective, giving up seven hits with four strikeouts and one walk to earn his first win of August in his final start of the month. The right-hander is now 11-9 on the season.
Anibal Sanchez came into the game leading the American League in ERA, but he gave up two runs right out of the gate, and although he struck out five, he had three walks and surrendered four earned runs over five tough innings.
Coco Crisp got things going with a leadoff double, and one out later he’d cross the plate on an RBI grounder up the middle by Josh Donaldson. Brandon Moss worked a 3-0 count and singled to right to move Donaldson to third in the next at-bat, and Yoenis Cespedes got an RBI on a grounder to Miguel Cabrera at third, who went to second for the fielder’s choice on the play.
By the end of the inning, Sanchez had thrown 29 pitches, and Griffin took the mound with an early 2-0 lead to work with. The opening frame was certainly encouraging as the right-hander struck out Austin Jackson, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder to start off on a good note.
The positive vibes didn’t last too long, as Omar Infante tied the game with a two-run homer in the bottom of the second. Infante only had six homers on the season before the shot to right field, but Griffin left an 88 MPH fastball over the plate, and the veteran second basemen did exactly what you’d expect a Major League hitter to do with the gimme pitch.
Crisp answered back in the top of the third with a solo shot to the right field corner to put the A’s ahead, 3-2. It was the fourth home run in five games for Crisp, and of his 14 on the year, 10 have come with the center fielder batting left-handed against right-handed pitching, as was the case tonight.
Sanchez stumbled a bit in the fourth, walking Seth Smith and Alberto Callaspo with one out to give the A’s another run scoring opportunity. Daric Barton squeezed a grounder past Jose Iglesias at short in the next at-bat to score Smith from second and give Oakland a 4-2 lead.
Cabrera hit a two-out, two-run shot in the fifth, evening things up with one swing of the bat against Griffin, who remains atop the MLB with 32 home runs given up on the year. The reigning AL MVP made contact on a slider to the outside of the plate, and he powered it into the stands in right-center, going yard for the 43rd time of the season.
Griffin got Fielder to ground out to end the inning, but it was undoubtedly frustrating for the young pitcher to give up the lead twice on what has been his Achilles’ heel this season. Luckily, the A’s hitters never took their foot off the gas, and they’d go to work against the Tigers’ bullpen.
Heading into the sixth Sanchez had thrown 112 pitches, and Jim Leyland decided to bring in Jose Alvarez out of the bullpen to start the inning. The left-hander gave up consecutive singles to pinch-hitter Nate Freiman and Alberto Callaspo, and Barton got his second RBI of the night on a grounder up the middle to score Freiman and make it 5-4.
Next, Stephen Vogt bunted Callaspo over to third, and Cabrera went to second on the throw trying to get the double play, but Vogt just legged out the throw to first. Crisp hit a single to left to give Oakland a 6-4 lead, and that knocked Alvarez out of the game. Al Alburquerque only needed one pitch to get out of the jam, getting Jed Lowrie to ground into a double play and end the rally.
Nevertheless, it was a lead the A’s would never relinquish. Dan Otero was brought in after Griffin got the first out of the sixth, and he’d get through the inning without any trouble.
Callaspo got an RBI single after another tw0-walk inning by a Detroit pitcher in the seventh, giving the A’s a 7-4 advantage. Otero briefly opened the door for a Tigers comeback in the bottom of the frame, walking Austin Jackson with two outs and surrendering a single to Torii Hunter to put two men on for the always-dangerous Cabrera.
After getting behind in the count 2-0, Otero intentionally walked Cabrera to load the bases with Prince Fielder on deck, and Sean Doolittle was brought in to face the big swinger, and the left-hander got him to fly out to center to end the inning.
The eighth followed a similar pattern, with Jed Lowrie tacking on another run for the A’s with an RBI double and Detroit threatening again. Victor Martinez hit the third home run of the game for the Tigers to leadoff the bottom of the inning, and after getting the first out against Matt Tuiasosopo, Doolittle was taken out for Ryan Cook. Cook got Infante to fly out to center before giving up two singles and a walk to load the bases again, but he recovered and struck out Hunter to get away unscathed.
Grant Balfour was brought in to close it out in the ninth, and he had to work a bit to get his 33rd save of the year. After getting Cabrera to ground out for the first out, Fielder shot a grounder past Callaspo at second, and Martinez got one of his own in the next at-bat. A wild pitch moved both up a base, and Donaldson fielded a grounder by Tuiasosopo and went to first for the out, allowing Fielder to cross the plate and cut the A’s lead to two runs. Balfour got Infante to ground out to short in the next at-bat, though, and Oakland took the first game of a long series at Comerica Park.
The win briefly puts the A’s two games behind Texas in the AL West, and by the end of the night they’ll move up or down a half game depending on what happens in the Rangers’ matchup with the Mariners.
Tommy Milone will face off against Justin Verlander in tomorrow night’s game, scheduled for a 4:08 PST start.