OAKLAND -- The A’s emerged from Saturday night with a 2-1 win and tied once again with the Angels atop the A.L. West, but not without a bit of concern. Sean Doolittle felt some discomfort in his right side while pitching the ninth and was evaluated by trainers after closing out the win.
Doolittle said he felt "a grab" in his side on his second-to-last pitch to the Angels’ Erick Aybar. He felt it again on the next pitch, which Aybar hit back to him for the final out. Doolittle, though, said the discomfort had mostly gone away by the time he talked with reporters after the game, and that trainers had found nothing to suggest an injury.
"Initially it was real tight," Doolittle said. "But by the time we got through the high-five line and got back up here, it was feeling better and I was able to do all the stuff that the trainers put me through, all the tests, and they didn’t feel the need to do any more than ice it."
Doolittle said those tests involved "twisting, stretching, moving side to side, a lot of core stabilization kind of stuff." Initially, he said, the pain "kind of felt like a cramp," but that by the time he got to the clubhouse, "whatever it was had kind of relaxed quite a bit."
Manager Bob Melvin said there’s "always (concern) when your closer feels something." But when asked if he’s worried, Doolittle shrugged and said: "Not really. If I was unable to do some of the stuff they asked me to do it’d be a different story, and I probably would not be out here talking to you guys.
"(The trainers) said they were encouraged by that, and I think early signs are pointing in the right direction."
From there, Doolittle moved on to talking about the A’s win, which for the second night in a row he termed "huge." With the score tied 1-1, the A’s scored the go-ahead run with two outs in the eighth on a wild pitch by reliever Joe Smith, bringing Coco Crisp home from third base. It gave the A’s and Angels identical records of 76-52, and put the A’s in position for a possible sweep Sunday evening behind 14-game winner Scott Kazmir.
"As hot as they’ve been, as good as they’ve been playing, as they get a start like that from (C.J.) Wilson, we find a way to take advantage of a little miscue late and get a win -- that is huge for us to be able to capitalize like that late in the game," Doolittle said.
Even with the A’s now probably wanting to be cautious and not use Doolittle in the series finale, he might have been off-limits Sunday anyway, given his saving both Friday’s and Saturday’s wins. Doolittle needed 26 pitches to record two outs Friday, but nailed down the save Saturday on 11 pitches, even with a two-out single by Howie Kendrick.
* Tomorrow’s print story covers the thin margin that separated the A’s and Angels in this game -- the difference between a harmless high fastball and what proved to be the crucial wild pitch by Smith, which nicked off the webbing of catcher Chris Iannetta’s glove and to the backstop as Crisp scored from third standing up.
Another indication of how taut the game was: A’s starter Jon Lester allowed one run on five hits in seven innings while throwing 109 pitches. Angels starter C.J. Wilson allowed one run on five hits in 6 1/3 innings while throwing 110 pitches.
It was the kind of performance for which the A’s acquired Lester at the trade deadline. Through the first six innings, he allowed two singles while striking out seven, including Mike Trout three times. Lester is just the third pitcher this season to strike Trout out three times in a game, joining Max Scherzer and John Danks.
All three were swinging, the first two on high fastballs and the third on a breaking ball low and away. Asked how he pitched Trout, Lester said: "Just executed our game plan. And the second at-bat he came out of the zone a little bit, swung at ball four, so maybe we were able to just get him off his game a little, just enough to get him to swing at some bad pitches. But you’re not going to have nights like that too often against him."
It wasn’t only Trout, though, having trouble against Lester, who lowered his ERA with the A’s to 2.60 in five starts. Doolittle observed that Lester "was always ahead in the count, and it seemed like he was getting the leadoff guy out every inning, not allowing them to see a lot of pitches or get settled in.
"From that standpoint, he controlled the tempo of the game," Doolittle said. "He was able to kind of dictate the at-bats, and got a lot of weak contact. It was really fun to watch."
Lester also benefited from some strong defense. Shortstop Andy Parrino made a nice play to throw out Collin Cowgill at third for the second out of the first inning. Josh Donaldson made a couple of nice plays down the third-base line. The biggest might have been Craig Gentry throwing out David Freese trying to stretch a single into a double leading off the seventh inning.
At the time, the A’s led 1-0. Howie Kendrick followed with a double and Aybar singled to score him. It tied the game, and might have put the Angels ahead had Freese still been on base.
"Defense was great tonight," Lester said. "All in all it was a good night for us, a competitive night, and we were fortunate enough to be on the better end tonight."
Lester didn’t stay in long enough to qualify for the win. But he bolstered the impression he’s leaving on teammates and Melvin.
"He brings a lot of tenacity, and you feel it when you play behind him," Melvin said. "Economical for the most part with his pitches, but you can feel his intensity behind him. And when you have big games, he’s the guy you want on the mound for you."
That’s the reputation that Lester has built in the majors, particularly with his performance in the postseason, and he shrugged when asked if he feels pressure of those expectations.
"No, I mean, no matter what type of expectation people put on me, I’m sure it’s not going to be as high as what I put on myself," Lester said. "I expect myself to go out there every time and throw nine shutout (innings) and adjust after that as the games go on. … So the expectations, any other words you want to put along with that, that’s nothing new."
* It has become almost cliché for the A’s and Melvin to talk about the spark Crisp gives the offense, but the eighth inning only served to underscore that point. Crisp chopped a single back up the middle off Smith, moved to third on groundouts by Gentry and Josh Donaldson, then sent a sellout crowd into a frenzy sprinting home on Smith’s wild pitch.
Crisp is 7-for-21 with four runs scored and six runs batted in over his last five games. He all but manufactured a run in the eighth Saturday, and in a game in which offense came at a premium, it proved critical.
* The A’s did have a potential sixth-inning run cut down at home by the Angels on a well executed relay. After Donaldson’s leadoff walk, Derek Norris lined a ball to the left-field corner. Donaldson, running on the pitch, was waved around third as Aybar took the throw in from Josh Hamilton and relayed home to Chris Iannetta, who tagged Donaldson on a bang-bang play.
Donaldson went in headfirst and it looked as though he might have snuck his left hand around the foot of Iannetta before Iannetta tagged him. He immediately protested the "out" call and Melvin challenged the play, but the call was upheld after a review of 3:40.
Melvin said the A’s challenged thinking Donaldson might have touched home plate prior to the tag and not contesting that Iannetta had violated a rule by not giving Donaldson a lane to the plate. "I think once it goes to (the review crew in New York), they take a look at the whole play," Melvin said.
"We thought that he got his hand in there and he got in in front of the tag. I still haven’t seen the replay. I saw the one on the scoreboard, it looked like he was safe. But obviously they had a different opinion."
It wasn’t a good night for Melvin challenge-wise. He also asked for an umpires’ review when Sam Fuld was thrown out stealing second in the seventh and was granted one, but that call was upheld as well.
* While these teams now have identical records, the A’s do hold a significant advantage in the head-to-head series. They’ve won eight of the 11 meetings this season, including all five games played at the Coliseum. The sixth comes under unique circumstances -- it’s the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball telecast, meaning a later-than-normal start and national audience for the first time in a long time at the Coliseum.
"I guess that’s huge," Fuld said. "Sometimes it takes the general public a little bit longer than those in the baseball world to appreciate what this organization has done, and what a good team we have here."
One team will emerge with a one-game lead in the West. For now, the A’s and Angels are tied for the first time since Los Angeles caught the A’s a week ago in the standings.
"I don’t think there was any panic over here," Fuld said. "I think we were confident we would regroup and get up for these guys. (Saturday was) a huge win, a fun environment.
"I think these eight games that we have (left) with them looking forward, it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be a lot of games like this, I think, you can anticipate a lot of games coming down to tooth and nail."
It’s A’s left-hander Scott Kazmir (14-5, 2.73) against Angels right-hander Jered Weaver (13-7, 3.70) in the finale. First pitch at 5:05 p.m.