OAKLAND – Shortly after Bartolo Colon threw his first pitch Sunday afternoon, all but ensuring he would not pitch in Tuesday's All-Star Game, the A's made the official announcement that closer Grant Balfour would replace Colon on the American League roster for the Midsummer Classic.
It was a fitting trade-off involving two of the major reasons the A's are where they are entering the break. Several hours and 11 innings later, a third delivered the winning hit in a 3-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox to propel the A's into the second half on a high – and, of course, pie – note.
Josh Donaldson, whose two-run homer tied the score 2-2 in the bottom of the seventh inning, blooped a single into shallow right field off Matt Thornton to score Chris Young from second base, flinging his helmet into the air as he rounded first, and the A's ran out to greet him.
The A's enter the break alone in first place in the A.L. West for the first time since 1990 and with their most first-half wins (56) since 1973.
"I really believe that the guys in this clubhouse believe we have one of the best teams in baseball," Donaldson said. "It's just one of those things, when we get an opportunity to play another team like the Red Sox, like the Pirates, like the Cardinals, we're going out there trying to send a message that we are a really good team and we're for real."
Twelve wins belong to Colon, who despite a no-decision Sunday continued his resurgent season at age 40, finishing the first half with a 2.70 ERA to lead a rotation that has carried the A's after a rocky first month. The A's are 36-17 since May 17, a span of 53 games in which the rotation is 27-9 with a 2.99 ERA.
Colon was bidding to become the third A's pitcher since 1975 to enter the break with 13 wins, and for five innings he matched zeros with Boston starter Brandon Workman. But a Dustin Pedroia single with two on in the sixth broke the tie, and the Red Sox scored again in the seventh as Brock Holt lined a single over a pulled-in infield to score Mike Carp from third.
That ended a laborious day for Colon, who threw 107 pitches to a Red Sox team that ended the first half with the best record (58-39) in baseball. The A's got Colon off the hook for the loss in the seventh after being held hitless for the first six by the rookie Workman, pitching in his second big-league game.
Coco Crisp led off with an infield single and two batters later, Donaldson crushed a full-count pitch for his 16th home run, just below the luxury box windows in center field.
Sunday may have served as one last first-half protest by Donaldson, who is not headed to New York despite a breakout half as the A's everyday third baseman. Donaldson enters the break leading the team in batting average (.310), RBIs (61) and on-base plus slugging percentage (.901) and is tied with first baseman Brandon Moss for the team lead in home runs.
"It's pretty apropos that not only did he knock in the winning run but knocked in all three runs," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "Pretty good first half."
Melvin said the A's are "done being riled up" about Donaldson not being an All-Star, which is due partly to his playing one of the league's deepest positions. "In our hearts and our minds," Melvin added, "he's an All-Star."
Their now official one, Balfour, pitched the ninth inning and preserved the 2-2 tie by striking out the side. Balfour, 35, heads to his first All-Star Game having converted all 25 of his save chances on the season with a 1.63 ERA and is the only closer in the majors without a blown save.
"Minus Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis, I don't know another guy who's more worthy," Donaldson said.
Balfour said he was "relieved" by the selection and called it a "great honor."
"I feel like I've had some good years, but things have to go right and things have to go your way to get on there," he said. "It's just an honor now to be named to it and I'm very happy to, I guess you could say, cross it off the list."