If you needed any more evidence that the Oakland Athletics are steamrolling their way through the month of September to secure their second straight division title, look no further than the Ballpark in Arlington Sunday afternoon, where the A’s swept the Texas Rangers to increase their lead in the AL West to six and a half games in their final contest against their fiercest rival.
After two competitive games that were taken by Oakland, a victory in Sunday’s finale was anything but assured after late scratches to ace Jarrod Parker (illness) and slugger Yoenis Cespedes (sore right shoulder).
No matter for the surging Athletics. Tommy Milone took Parker’s place and threw five innings, limiting the Rangers to one run on six hits with five strikeouts and one walk to get his first career win against the Rangers. He got out of numerous jams in the process to pace an Oakland staff that limited Texas to a 1-for-10 mark with runners in scoring position Sunday afternoon.
Meanwhile, the A’s bats stayed hot as they scored four of their five runs on home runs by Josh Donaldson, Chris Young and Josh Reddick. Oakland hit six homers over the course of the series while Texas didn’t hit any.
Martin Perez, one of the top rookies in the league this season with a 9-4 record and a 3.64 ERA, took the loss for Texas after giving up three runs on seven hits with three strikeouts and two walks.
Oakland maintained their recent trend of scoring first when they scored twice on Perez in the first set of at-bats. Coco Crisp and Young both singled to lead off the charge, putting runners at the corners for Jed Lowrie. The shortstop grounded into a double play, but Crisp crossed home plate to give the A’s a 1-0 lead.
Next, Donaldson connected on a curveball and wrapped it inside the foul pole in left field, putting Oakland ahead 2-0 and extending his hitting streak to 11 games in the process. It was the 23rd home run of the year for Donaldson, which ties him with Yoenis Cespedes for second-most on the team (Brandon Moss is first with 27).
With the offense off to a solid start, the focus shifted to Milone, starting his first game for the A’s since August 27 against Detroit. The left-hander gave up singles to Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre while getting Ian Kinsler and Alex Rios to line out in the first four at-bats. With two outs, A.J. Pierzynski lined one to left to score Andrus from second to make it 2-1, but Milone was able to strike out Jeff Baker to end the inning in the next at-bat.
Perez recovered to face only three batters in the second, and Texas threatened in the bottom half of the inning, putting two runners on against Milone before he was able to retire Kinsler and Andrus for the final two outs.
Oakland tacked on another run in the top of the third thanks to a two-out solo shot by Young. After working the count to 3-1, Young got a low fastball over the outside part of the plate, and there was never much doubt about it clearing the fence as the ball carried in the 95 degree heat in Arlington.
After a shutdown inning for Milone in the bottom of the third, the A’s looked poise to add to their lead when Donaldson drew a walk and Derek Norris doubled to start off the fourth. After a coaching visit to the mound, Perez responded by striking out Callaspo and getting Freiman to pop out in foul territory. Reddick drove a ball to the gap in left-center that would’ve scored both runners if it dropped, but Craig Gentry made a great running catch to rob him of extra bases and end the rally.
Milone stranded two more Rangers baserunners in the bottom of the fourth after giving up one-out singles to Jim Adduci and Joey Butler, putting an emphatic end to the inning by striking out Kinsler looking. He’d stay in to pitch the fifth and got a three-up, three-down inning to finish off his day, and to say that his performance was impressive wouldn’t do it justice considering the last minute switch and the lack of starts recently.
Dan Otero came in for the sixth and struck out Pierzynski before giving up back-to-back singles to Jurickson Profar and Adduci. With runners at the corners, the right-hander was able to get pinch-hitters David Murphy and Leonys Martin to fly out to end the inning and strand two more Rangers on the basepaths.
Oakland had another opportunity to score some insurance runs in the top of the seventh, putting two men on with no outs before Perez was able to get Daric Barton to pop out. That would be it for Martin as Alexi Ogando was brought in out of the bullpen, and the right-hander got Crisp to ground into the third double play of the day for the Rangers to end the inning.
That put the A’s at 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position as they had relied on home runs and a sacrifice groundout for their runs up to that point, but they were still working to preserve the two-run lead as Ryan Cook came in to work the bottom of the seventh.
After getting roughed up in his last couple appearances, the 2012 All-Star representative for the A’s got two quick outs before giving up singles to Rios and Adrian Beltre to put runners at the corners again for the Rangers. That prompted manager Bob Melvin to bring in Sean Doolittle to face Pierzynski, and the left-hander got him to hit an infield pop up to strand the ninth and 10th baserunners of the day for Texas.
Doolittle stayed in for the bottom of the eighth and got a 1-2-3 inning. In the top of the ninth, Brandon Moss drew a one-out walk before Reddick hit his 12th home run of the year on an inside fastball from reliever Joakim Soria to make it 5-1. Jesse Chavez threw 14 pitches in the bottom of the ninth for a ho hum end to one of the biggest series of the year for the A’s, and it was exactly what the club needed to put themselves in the driver’s seat heading down the home stretch of the season.
The magic number for Oakland to clinch the division is now eight, and while there’s still two weeks of regular season play left, it’s hard to see a scenario where the A’s don’t end up with their second straight division title.
Oakland will head home to take on the Angels in a three-game series before the Twins come to town for a four-game matchup over the weekend. Sonny Gray will take on C.J. Wilson Monday night in the opener between the Green and Gold and the Halos.