The Oakland Athletics beat the Los Angeles Angels Tuesday night by a score of 2-1 thanks to some late-game heroics by Josh Donaldson.
Their magic number is down to six after the win, and it was an impressive, persistent performance in a playoff atmosphere (despite all the talk about empty seats leading up to the game) for a team that’s gearing up to make a deep run in October.
In a contest that was centered entirely around pitching and defense after each team scored in the opening frame, the Donaldson pretty much cemented his case for team MVP with a clutch hit in a situation every player dreams about: two outs, bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth. The pressure didn’t faze the third baseman, and he came through with the run-scoring hit that had eluded both teams for so long.
Sonny Gray and Garrett Richards had a nice back-and-forth going after early hiccups on both sides, and they battled throughout the game to prevent hitters from getting into any rhythm at the plate. Gray threw six innings and gave up five hits, with five strikeouts and one walk, while Richards went seven frames with six strikeouts and two walks.
Gray started off well enough, retiring the first two batters in the first inning before running into some guy named Mike Trout. The reigning American League Rookie of the Year picked up where he left off last night, hitting a fastball to nearly the exact same spot as his two-run shot in the eighth inning on Monday to give the Angels a 1-0 lead.
The A’s answered back quickly, with Brandon Moss scoring Coco Crisp from second on a ground-rule double with two outs in the bottom of the first. It was a welcome sight after last night’s slow start, but it didn’t lead to any sort of consistency as both pitchers locked in over the next few innings to limit the scoring opportunities.
Gray allowed a baserunner in each of the next four innings, and each time he got through it without allowing a run. The toughest spot came in the top of the fifth when he gave up singles to Andrew Romine and Howie Kendrick to put two men on board with one out for the heart of the Angels lineup. The 23-year-old responded by striking out Trout and getting Josh Hamilton to line out to left, and that made them 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position up to that point.
Oakland had a few chances of their own, putting two baserunners on with two outs in the fourth and fifth innings with no success in getting the big hit to drive them in.
It looked like the Halos might finally break through for a big inning in the sixth when Mark Trumbo, who had three RBI last night, hit a line drive to right that would’ve been at least a double had it dropped. Instead, Josh Reddick made one a catch that shows why he won a Gold Glove last season, going all out on a dive to get the first out of the inning.
Gray took care of the rest, retiring Kole Calhoun and Erik Aybar in his final inning on the mound to do his part against a lineup that showed what it’s capable of in last night’s 12-1 win.
In the bottom of the sixth, Moss grounded a fastball up the middle for a leadoff double, but Richards retired Yoenis Cespedes, Reddick and Alberto Callaspo to keep things tied, 1-1. That made Moss the third Oakland hitter of the game to get on base with no outs, only to get stranded on the basepaths.
Ryan Cook came in out of the bullpen to start the seventh inning, and despite getting two quick outs against Chris Iannetta and Romine, he still couldn’t shake his recent habit of allowing runners on as J.B. Shuck singled to keep the inning alive. Shuck stole second, and Cook’s control issues bubbled to the surface in an instant as he hit Kendrick and Trout to load the bases.
That would be it for the right-hander as Jerry Blevins was brought in to get the biggest out of the game, and the longest-tenured player on the A’s roster struck out Hamilton on a full count to end the inning.
Oakland continued to wallow in hitters purgatory in the bottom of the seventh, making consistent contact but finding the gloves of the Angels’ defense each time, with the exception of a grounder by Eric Sogard that broke through the left side of the infield for a single.
Blevins worked through the eighth without issue, and Donaldson knocked Richards out of the game with an infield single to start off the bottom half of the inning. Keeping with the game-long trend, he was stranded at first as Angels reliever Buddy Boshers struck out Moss, followed by an appearance by Juan Gutierrez that saw him retire Cespedes and Reddick.
Grant Balfour was brought in for the ninth and had one of his better outings in a while, striking out the side to give Oakland’s hitters a chance to win the game before extra innings.
Callaspo got the rally started with a single to left against right-hander Michaek Kohn, and Bob Melvin brought in Jemile Weeks to pinch run and use his speed in a situation that definitely called for it. Stephen Vogt popped out to the corner in left field in the next at-bat, and it was deep enough to allow Weeks to take second base after tagging up, putting the winning run in scoring position.
Next, Jed Lowrie came in to pinch-hit for Sogard, but with the open base Kohn intentionally walked him to bring up Crisp. The center fielder went down 0-2 before battling back to work the count full, and on the 10th pitch he drew a walk to load the bases.
Daric Barton came out swinging, and he went down swinging in five pitches to lower the A’s chances of walking away with a win in their best opportunity of the game. Josh Donaldson had other ideas, however, and despite going down 0-2 he connected on a fastball and drove it into the gap in right-center to give Oakland a 2-1 win and cut their magic number to clinch the AL West down to six.
The series wraps up tomorrow with A.J. Griffin on the mound against Jason Vargas for a 12:35 PST start.