ANAHEIM – It says a lot that the A’s can lose their best defensive outfielder to the disabled list and still turn heads with their outfield defense. Choose your favorite outfield highlight from Oakland’s 7-1 victory Wednesday over the Los Angeles Angels. There was more than one to select from. Coco Crisp jumped high to snatch a home run away from Josh Hamilton in center field in the second inning. In the sixth, left fielder Yoenis Cespedes made his second incredible throw in as many nights to nail another base runner and snuff out a potential rally for the home team after the A’s went up 4-1.
“You can’t say enough about our outfielders,” catcher Stephen Vogt said. “The way they saved us runs and kept us in ballgames this series has just been outstanding.”
There were other encouraging signs for the A’s during a get-well victory that helped them avoid a three-game sweep and put some polish on their three-city, nine-game road trip. The A’s finished 5-4 on their trip – giving them an impressive string of 10 consecutive road trips with a .500 record or better, dating back to June of last season.
Of more immediate importance, the A’s halted the Angels’ five-game winning streak and increased their American League West lead back to 3 ½ games over Los Angeles. A’s manager Bob Melvin didn’t downplay Wednesday’s victory.
“This was a big swing game for us,” he said. “In the division, to be 3½ (ahead) instead of 1 ½ is big too. Now, it’s early in the season. But some games are a little more important than others, and this one certainly was.”
Stellar outfield defense has been a hallmark of Oakland’s back-to-back division titles, but usually Josh Reddick is at the center of many of those plays. The 2012 Gold Glover is on the disabled list with a hyperextended knee right now, and though he’s played catch back in the Bay Area, he has yet to start full baseball activity.
In his absence, the A’s got a collection of highlight plays on this trip. Craig Gentry turned in terrific diving catches in both New York and Baltimore. In Monday’s series opener at Angel Stadium, right fielder Brandon Moss – who spends most of his time at first base -- threw out Erick Aybar trying to go first to third on a single. The A’s lead the majors with 20 outfield assists.
Crisp’s leaping catch of Hamilton’s drive came one inning after Angels center fielder Mike Trout went high to rob Cespedes of extra bases.
“He’s a five-tool player,” Crisp said of Trout. “He’s gonna do something special in the game from some aspect. It sucks when it’s against you. But when you’re watching it, you can’t help but be like, ‘Wow, that was a nice play.’”
A’s left-hander Tommy Milone (4-3) was the beneficiary of Crisp’s catch and Cespedes’ throw. On a night he was matched up against Angels ace Jered Weaver, Milone outpitched the right-hander with 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball. He was asked about watching Cespedes cut down runners on back-to-back nights with incredible throws after initially misplaying the ball in left field.
“I think he’s starting to do it on purpose,” Milone joked, “to bait runners into trying to take the extra base.”
Not to be overlooked, Vogt’s two-run homer off Weaver – his first since being recalled June 1 – gave the A’s a 4-1 lead in the sixth.
“Pulling out a win was great,” Vogt said. “But coming up with timely hitting was huge for us because that’s what we were missing the last two nights.”
When the A’s are playing well, you witness victories like Wednesday’s. The starting pitching is solid, the bullpen gives the opponent no hope it can mount a comeback, several different hitters contribute offensively, and the defense leaves you more than one favorite play to choose from.
It’s a formula the A’s would do well to repeat.