OAKLAND – You’ve heard of the “three-headed monster” the A’s have at catcher.
Coco Crisp says there’s also a two-headed monster lurking on the roster. He was referring to himself and Craig Gentry in center field, and both came up huge in very different ways to help the A’s to a 4-3 victory over Boston on Friday night.
Gentry started in center and made a spectacular diving catch to rob Brock Holt in the top of the second. He wound up doubling off Stephen Drew from second base to end the inning. Considering the Red Sox already had scored twice in the inning, who knows what disaster would have awaited the A’s and starting pitcher Brad Mills had Holt’s ball hit the turf.
Then Crisp, who pinch-hit for Gentry in the seventh, delivered the game-winning single in the bottom of the eighth to snap several innings of missed opportunities from A’s batters.
Two players, one position … and apparently zero tension over who gets however much playing time.
“Gentry’s a special player,” Crisp said at his locker after the game. “It’s a two-headed monster, me and him right now. We got the stolen bases and the defense. It’s a good little combo.”
Manager Bob Melvin never has referred to the center field position as a platoon between the switch-hitting Crisp and the right-handed hitting Gentry. But since Crisp first hurt his neck crashing into the center field wall several weeks ago, Gentry has drawn a lot of starts against left-handed pitchers.
Right now, Melvin is handling center the way he’s handled other positions around the diamond. He’s shuffling two players, using them both effectively and choosing his spots in the middle of games to call on whichever one is on the bench that night. On Friday, that was Crisp, who came through in the eighth against Sox lefty reliever Andrew Miller (2-5).
After taking a 2-1 pitch for a strike (Crisp’s body language said he didn’t like the call), he lined a fastball to the opposite field to score Kyle Blanks and break a 3-3 tie.
“There are certain games, I'd like to rest him a whole game,” Melvin said of Crisp. “But he always says he's ready to go. He came up huge for us. There have been so many times over the last couple of years that he comes up in those situations and you feel great about it. To an extent you almost expect it.”
Melvin also had reason to feel great about his bullpen, which blanked the Sox over the final five innings after Mills went just four innings in his A’s debut.
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Jim Johnson, for a change, left the mound to cheers after a roller-coaster fifth in which he struck out two and stranded the bases loaded. Ryan Cook, another struggling reliever, followed with two perfect innings and Fernando Abad (2-2) handled the eighth. Sean Doolittle tossed another 1-2-3 ninth for his 10th save.
It remains to be seen whether Mills gets another start after walking four and needing 94 pitches to get through four innings. But Melvin was complimentary of the lefty, who was acquired Tuesday from Milwaukee and was starting in place of Drew Pomeranz.
“He got off to a heck of a start by striking out the side in the first inning,” Melvin said. “He just threw a lot of pitches.”
The damage would have been worse in the second if not for Gentry. Josh Donaldson had put the A’s ahead with a three-run homer in the first. Then the Red Sox closed to within 3-2 in the second before Gentry broke left on Holt’s liner and made the diving grab.
The productive center field tandem is a reason the A’s currently sit with the majors’ best record at 46-28.
“Hopefully we can continue to play that way and not just have the best record, but make the playoffs and continue on past Detroit,” Crisp said. “We'll see what happens.”
Catcher Derek Norris’ X-rays came back negative after he took a foul tip off the left forearm and left the game in the seventh. He was diagnosed with a contusion and his status for Saturday is unknown.