Only the slimmest of margins separated the A’s and Los Angeles Angels on Saturday night.
It was the difference between a harmless high fastball and a fateful wild pitch, the delivery from Angels reliever Joe Smith with two outs in the eighth inning of a tie game that clipped off the webbing of catcher Chris Iannetta’s outstretched glove and away as A’s center fielder Coco Crisp sprinted home from third base.
In a game deadlocked after nearly identical performances by left-handers Jon Lester and C.J. Wilson, Crisp’s run provided the separation in the A’s taut 2-1 victory before an announced sellout crowd at O.co Coliseum. As a result, nothing today separates the two teams in the standings after the A’s pulled back into a tie with the Angels atop the American League West for the first time since Los Angeles overtook them a week ago.
“I don’t think there was any panic over here,” A’s outfielder Sam Fuld said. “I think we were confident we would regroup and get up for these guys.
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“I think these last eight games that we have with them looking forward, it’s going to be a lot of games like that. I think you can anticipate a lot of games coming down to tooth and nail like this.”
Crisp led off the eighth by chopping a single back up the middle off Smith and went to third on groundouts by Craig Gentry and Josh Donaldson. After Smith hit Derek Norris with a pitch, the A’s sent Brandon Moss up as a pinch hitter tasked with driving in Crisp. But he didn’t have to, as Smith’s 1-1 pitch sailed high and Crisp crossed the plate standing up with the go-ahead run.
A night after throwing 26 pitches to record two outs for a save, A’s closer Sean Doolittle needed just 11 pitches to secure the win Saturday – but it came with a brief scare. On his second-to-last pitch to Erick Aybar, Doolittle said he felt a “grab” in his right side. After retiring Aybar on a comebacker to end the game, Doolittle went through mobility tests with team trainers in the clubhouse.
“We’ll know more (today), but by the time I walked back up here, whatever it was had kind of relaxed quite a bit,” Doolittle said. “I was able to do all the stuff the trainers put me through, all the tests, and they didn’t feel the need to do any more than ice it.”
Doolittle said he was “not really” worried about it being a significant injury. He said the win, which improved the A’s to 8-3 against the Angels this season and gives them a shot at a sweep today, was “huge. As good as they’ve been playing, they get a start like that from Wilson, and we find a way to take advantage of a little miscue and get a win, that’s huge for us to be able to capitalize like that late in the game.”
Lester allowed only two hits, both singles, through six innings while striking out seven batters, including slugger Mike Trout three times. Benefiting from some strong defense behind him, Lester carried a 1-0 lead into the seventh, when the Angels broke through on a Howie Kendrick one-out double followed by an RBI single by Aybar.
It might have been a bigger inning, as David Freese led off with a line drive over Gentry in left field. But Gentry threw out Freese trying for a double. Lester departed after seven innings at 109 pitches, having lowered his ERA with the A’s to 2.60 in five starts.
“He brings a lot of tenacity, and you feel it when you play behind him,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Economical for the most part with his pitches, but you can feel his intensity and when you have big games, he’s the guy you want on the mound for you.”
Lester’s outing was key as the A’s were managing little offense against Wilson, though a chance to give Lester a bigger lead in the sixth was nullified by a close play at the plate. After Donaldson’s leadoff walk, Norris lined a 2-2 Wilson pitch into the left-field corner. Donaldson, running on the pitch, was waved around third as Josh Hamilton relayed the ball to Aybar, and he was called out diving headfirst into home.
Donaldson immediately protested the call and Melvin challenged it, but after a review of 3 minutes, 40 seconds, the call was upheld.
“We thought that he got his hand in there and got in in front of the tag,” Melvin said. “I saw the (replay) on the scoreboard. It looked like he was safe, but obviously they had a different opinion.”
Fuld got the start against Wilson by being the atypical left-handed hitter who has a higher career average against left-handed pitchers, and the strategy paid off early as Fuld drove in the A’s first run with a second-inning single off Wilson, scoring Jonny Gomes.