OAKLAND – They responded.
That’s about the most important thing you could say about the A’s following their 5-3 victory over the Angels on Friday night.
Wobbling into this weekend showdown having played their worst stretch of baseball of the season, the A’s pieced together one of their most complete performances in quite some time to take the opener of this three-game series between American League West heavyweights.
Players in the clubhouse were quick to point out that it’s just one win, and it shouldn’t be blown out of proportion. True, if the A’s don’t follow it up with more quality baseball Saturday and Sunday, Friday’s victory loses its luster.
But it was encouraging that the A’s could land the first punch against the Angels (76-51), who were coming off a four-game sweep of Boston and have soared to the major leagues’ best record.
And it was important that Oakland stepped up in front of an electric crowd Friday night. The Coliseum was about 2,000 shy of a sellout, but it was rocking from the first inning. There was a different energy in the air, and it was representative of the magnitude of this matchup.
“When we met in the ninth inning in center, I said to Coco (Crisp) and (Craig) Gentry, ‘I’ve never heard this place like this,’” said outfielder Sam Fuld, a first-year Athletic. “It was loud, electric. Just a fun environment.”
A positive early omen came courtesy of Crisp, who went deep in the bottom of the first for his 13th leadoff homer as an Athletic, tying him with Bert Campaneris for third-most in franchise history.
It was big because, as it’s been stated often lately, when Crisp gets rolling, his teammates tend to follow. And on Friday night, he reminded everyone that he can impact a game with his power as well as his more conventional leadoff skills.
His homer swayed momentum right back to the A’s after Mike Trout went deep off Sonny Gray (13-7) in the top of the first.
“That was big,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Trout has given us some trouble before, and to turn it around, that was huge. It’s like, ‘We’re fine.’”
It was just as big to get some rather unexpected production from the bottom of the batting order. Fuld was the only pure left-handed hitter in the starting lineup against Angels lefty Hector Santiago, and his triple to right-center in the sixth scored Alberto Callaspo and put the A’s in front for good. Then No. 9 hitter Andy Parrino – what, you didn’t picture him starting a big game at shortstop back in March? – delivered a sacrifice fly to make it 4-2.
As much as the A’s need their middle-of-the-lineup bats to step up, it will be a big lift if unheralded heroes take their turn pitching in as was the case Friday. Parrino also turned an unassisted double play to end the top of the fifth and lift Gray out of a major jam.
“That’s our goal, to not put too much pressure on any one guy in the order,” Fuld said.
But it took Sean Doolittle’s high-wire act in the ninth to nail down the victory. Entering in relief of Gray, who was fantastic over 8 1/3 innings, Doolittle gave up two hits, including David Freese’s RBI single, and a walk that made it a two-run game. But he stranded the bases loaded with a game-ending strikeout of pinch hitter Chris Iannetta.
Channeling all of his adrenaline in a productive manner was a challenge.
“Getting a chance to be back out there in a situation like that at home, with our fans behind us, it felt good,” Doolittle said, “a little too good in the beginning there.”
Despite the ninth-inning adventures, consider all the elements that were present in the victory – a big-time performance from Gray, Crisp making things happen with the bat, great defense and contributions from unexpected sources.
The A’s need more performances like this.
“You know, we haven’t played a game like that, that crisp, in a while,” Melvin said. “The fans were out in full force as we expected. As the game went along, certainly when we took the lead, it felt like we were in charge of a game when we hadn’t been in a while.”