OAKLAND – While saving a career-high 38 games this season, A's closer Grant Balfour has painted himself into a corner on multiple occasions, only to pitch out of trouble. But there's one thing not even the most adept escape artist can navigate, and that's a ball hit where nobody can make a play.
Brought in to close a 4-2 game against the Angels on Wednesday, Balfour allowed a one-out, two-run homer to Josh Hamilton for his third blown save of the season. In all three, Balfour has lost the lead on a home run. Two innings later, Hamilton broke a tie with a sacrifice fly to give the A's a deflating 5-4 loss at O.co Coliseum.
Balfour was not in the A's clubhouse after the game and a team spokesman said he had left before the clubhouse was opened to the media. It was Balfour's first blown save at home since April 25 of last year, and it came a day after he struck out the side in the ninth inning in the A's 2-1 walk-off win Tuesday night.
"If you look at it overall, three blown saves is going to work anywhere," manager Bob Melvin said. "And actually he did have good stuff today. He just got one fastball probably not in the right spot to a pretty good fastball hitter. But it looked like he had pretty good stuff to me."
Erick Aybar led off the ninth inning against Balfour with a chopper that cleared third baseman Josh Donaldson into left field for a single. Balfour got Mike Trout to fly out but threw an 0-1 fastball to Hamilton that the Angels' cleanup hitter drove into the bleachers in right field.
After the A's stranded a leadoff walk in the 10th, the Angels' J.B. Shuck doubled off Jesse Chavez to start the 11th. Aybar bunted and reached safely when Donaldson bobbled the ball, giving the Angels runners on the corners with nobody out.
"I just felt like I came in on it a little too aggressively, feet weren't underneath me," Donaldson said. "That's one of those plays I expect to make every time."
After Trout flew out, Jerry Blevins entered to face Hamilton, whom Blevins had struck out in a bases-loaded situation Tuesday and had retired on strikes in seven of 13 previous head-to-head meetings. This time, Hamilton hit a fly ball deep enough to left field to score Shuck from third.
Despite their loss, the A's maintained their 61/2-game lead in the American League West when Texas lost to Tampa Bay 4-3 in 12 innings.
The loss did deny right-hander A.J. Griffin his 15th win after he allowed one hit in six innings before leaving with a 4-2 lead.
The one hit was a two-run homer by Trout in the third at-bat of the game, the 35th home run allowed by Griffin this season. Griffin led the majors in homers allowed entering the game but also was tied for sixth in the A.L. in wins. After Trout's homer, the right-hander retired 17 of the final 18 hitters he faced and has a 2.77 ERA in September.
"It's only bothersome when people talk about it all the time," Griffin said of the home run totals. "I always hear that (Bert) Blyleven and (Catfish) Hunter gave up a lot of homers, too, and they seemed to have pretty good careers. So when you can minimize the damage and give up one hit and it's a home run, I can live with that."
The A's took the lead in the third inning on two two-run homers off Angels starter Jason Vargas. After Josh Reddick walked leading off the inning and Daric Barton popped out, Coco Crisp drove a full-count changeup to left for his 20th homer of the season and 10th in his past 26 games – as many as he hit in his first 97.
Two batters later, Jed Lowrie singled, and Yoenis Cespedes followed with his 24th homer over Trout's head in straightaway center. Cespedes, at designated hitter because of tendinitis in his throwing shoulder, also singled in the eighth inning for his 10th multi-hit game in 17 games this month.
Cespedes' single, though, was the A's only hit after the fifth inning, as they lost a series for the first time since Aug. 23-25 in Baltimore. They had won seven in a row.
"We've had some tough losses this year and we've had some dramatic wins," Melvin said. "You just put this one away and come back tomorrow and expect to win. As a team, we've been pretty good about that, really, over the last two years."
Call The Bee's Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015, and read his online reports at blogs.sacbee.com/ bay-area-baseball.