Ailene Voisin: A's Balfour battles for save in key game
09/03/2013 12:00 AM
09/03/2013 10:41 AM
OAKLAND – The A's are doing it with mirrors. They stare at their reflections and see winners – interchangeable parts in many instances – who get the big hits, make the crucial defensive plays, throw the perfect pitches, sacrifice for the common cause.
The A's clubhouse right now is baseball's version of a commune, with everyone sharing the chores, subduing their egos, and subscribing to the theory that this little lovefest of theirs has them right where they belong: tied for the American League West lead with the Texas Rangers after beating them 4-2 Monday.
And sometimes laborious?
Absolutely. But they'll take it. Slumping Yoenis Cespedes strikes for a home run and a single. Coco Crisp's drive barely kisses the pole in left for a 4-2 lead. Dan Straily endures five underwhelming innings. Dan Otero pitches out of a bases-loaded jam. Brett Anderson makes another relief appearance and inches closer – maybe – toward his more familiar starter's role.
And closer Grant Balfour huffs and puffs, works himself into a lather and a precarious position in the ninth, and has just enough smoke left to induce Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre into the final two outs.
"I'm on fumes right now," Balfour said after earning his 36th save. "Four out of five games. I didn't have a good fastball today. I could see that.
"They could probably tell that. I've had high pitch counts. Sometimes you've just got to pitch with your guts and get it done."
Lucky. Laborious. OK, gutsy, too. Balfour's presence and his importance to the A's in their attempt to match or even exceed last season's improbable success can't be overstated. Paint an unruly black beard on his friendly mug, transform him into a surly clubhouse personality, watch him overpower hitters with mid-90s fastballs that dive downward, and then listen to him scream after he claims his final victim.
He's not Brian Wilson. He's not that eccentric. He certainly isn't that dramatic. Let him throw nine quick pitches for three easy outs, and he's one happy Aussie.
Even in a fatigue-induced mini-slump, Balfour is one happy Aussie. He plays to win. With Bob Melvin playing a daring and daily chess game with his lineups, the A's have won four straight and eight of their last 10 games, demonstrating a stubborn aversion to that perilous new wild-card format. They want the division title, not a one-game playoff.
The fact Balfour isn't the only A's reliever to experience a blip lately – Sean Doolittle and Jerry Blevins foremost among them – has caused at least a modicum of concern, prompting a willingness to evaluate Anderson out of the bullpen.
"He (Balfour) had a nice run where there were quite a few easy ones," Melvin said. "He's going through a period where maybe he doesn't have his best stuff. But he's your guy at the end of the game."
Balfour, who blew only his second save of the season Thursday in Detroit, walked David Murphy on four straight pitches on Monday to open the ninth. Leonys Martin followed with a single to center. As the crowd stirred restlessly, Jurickson Profar went down 0-2 in the count, then grounded to first baseman Daric Barton, advancing the runners.
"I was throwing 91 miles an hour," Balfour said. "I haven't been there all year. I was just hanging (on). Not going to lie. Now I've got to face two really good hitters. To make two good pitches there I was happy the way it ended."
After Kinsler flied out to right on the first pitch, Beltre grounded out to third baseman Josh Donaldson, giving Balfour another save and the A's a share of the division lead. But stay tuned. These teams also meet tonight and Wednesday. And fatigue, unfortunately, isn't cured overnight.
Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin (916) 321-1208 and follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.
About This BlogAilene Voisin, who has been with The Sacramento Bee since 1997, writes columns on a variety of sports, from the NBA, NFL and baseball to local high schools. Voisin previously worked for the San Diego Union, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She has been a beat writer covering the Dodgers, Angels and Clippers. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 916-321-1208. Twitter: @ailene_voisin.
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