ANAHEIM – Bartolo Colon capped one of the most impressive seasons in recent memory by an A’s pitcher, outdueling Felix Hernandez in Friday’s 8-2 victory at Safeco Field.
Colon allowed just three hits over six innings to notch his 18th victory and help Oakland clinch at least the No. 2 playoff seed in the American League. That means the A’s hold homefield advantage for their American League Divisional Series that begins next Friday.
As it stands, they will play AL Central champion Detroit. But the A’s are still in contention for the top seed. Should the A’s win Saturday and Sunday and Boston lose its final two, the A’s would finish with the AL’s best record and play the wild card winner.
Putting a damper on the victory was the early exit of left fielder Yoenis Cespedes, who aggravated his right shoulder injury in his first outfield start since Sept. 13. Cespedes left in the fourth inning with what the club simply announced as soreness in the shoulder.
Cespedes received a cortisone shot in the shoulder last week and had served strictly as a designated hitter for the past two weeks. His status wasn’t immediately known.
Colon (18-6) finished with a 2.65 ERA and has a chance to become the A’s first ERA champ since Steve Ontiveros in 1994. He is currently second behind Detroit’s Anibal Sanchez, who will take the mound for his final regular-season start Saturday with a mark of 2.64.
The last A’s starter to finish with an ERA lower than Colon’s was Dave Stewart (2.56) in 1990. Colon’s 18-6 record ties him for the fifth-best winning percentage in Oakland history, and he’s posted the most wins for the club since Trevor Cahill won 18 in 2010.
Colon tied the franchise record for wins by a 40-year-old (Jack Quinn had 18 back in 1928), and he’s the first 40-year-old to win 18 games in the majors since Roger Clemens in 2004.
He outpitched Hernandez (12-10), who was pretty darn good aside from one pitch – a first-inning offering that Brandon Moss hit for a three-run homer.
Starting pitching report
Colon continued his sharp form since coming off the disabled list in Aug. 29. Since then, he is 4-1 with a 1.25 ERA, allowing just five earned runs in 36 innings. He’s issued just four walks.
His only mistakes came on two solo homers. Staked to a 3-0 lead in the first, he put a fastball in Franklin Gutierrez’s wheel house and Gutierrez cranked it over the left field wall. In the sixth, he fell behind Kendrys Morales 3-1 and gave up a deep homer to right-center to make it 3-2.
Colon once again combined good velocity with excellent location and finished with eight strikeouts.
In an encouraging sign for the A’s, the back end of their bullpen is showing signs of rounding back into form. Ryan Cook threw a scoreless seventh with a strikeout. Sean Doolittle continued his good run in handling the eighth and Grant Balfour struck out three in the ninth, off-setting a walk.
At the plate
The game began in promising fashion for Oakland as Coco Crisp led off the first with a double. With men on the corners and one out, Brandon Moss crushed a 2-1 pitch into the seats in right-center to put the A’s up 3-0. The sight of Athletics crossing home plate against King Felix was a rare one. He came in having not allowed a single run to Oakland over two starts this season (14 2/3 IP), with 16 strikeouts and just two walks.
As many dominating starters do, Hernandez toughened up as the game wore on. He retired 13 of his final 14 hitters before lefty Oliver Perez replaced him to start the seventh. With the A’s up 3-2, Derek Norris pinch-hit for Stephen Vogt and provided some important cushion with a two-run homer to left to make it 5-2. Oakland pinch hitters entered the night with a .142 average that was second-lowest in the AL. But they’ve now hit six homers, the second-most pinch-hit home runs in Oakland history (the 1970 squad had eight).
Norris is the first Athletic to have three pinch-hit homers in a season since Jeff Burroughs in 1982.
Each of Moss’ last nine hits, and 24 of his past 34, have been for extra bases. The homer was his team-leading 29th. Coco Crisp enjoyed a four-hit night.
In the field
A throwing error from Seattle second baseman Nick Franklin aided Oakland’s three-run rally in the seventh. A’s second baseman Eric Sogard misplayed a backhanded attempt at Kyle Seager’s grounder in the fourth, but the error didn’t cost Colon a run.
The turnout of 23,014 included the usual boisterous “King’s Court” section in left field that shows up for all of Hernandez’s starts. It wasn’t one of their best nights.
College football will dominate the local sports scene Saturday with Washington and Washington State both playing in Seattle. But the A’s and Mariners will hold the middle contest of this three-game set at 1:10 p.m. Jarrod Parker (12-7, 3.74) opposes right-hander Brandon Maurer (4-8, 6.48).