OAKLAND – The theory goes that the A’s will have to win a lot of games from here on out in the fashion they did Saturday night.
Jon Lester turned in the exact kind of effort the A’s expected when they traded for the big left-hander. The bullpen slammed the door and the defense turned in several impact plays that made a difference.
The result was a second consecutive victory over the Los Angeles Angels, this one a 2-1 decision that was low on offense but high on drama.
“There's going to be a lot of games like this (against the Angels),” A’s outfielder Sam Fuld said. “I think you can anticipate a lot of games coming down tooth and nail like this. A lot of times baseball games are won on quirky parts of the game you would never expect to happen.”
[INSTANT REPLAY: Crisp scores on wild pitch, A's beat Angels 2-1]
It was a wild pitch that brought home Coco Crisp with the winning run in the bottom of the eighth. But it’s the A’s starting pitching that’s made the biggest statement of the series. Sonny Gray and Lester have held the Angels to four runs over 15 1/3 innings combined in their two starts, setting the tone each night as the A’s have moved back into a tie for first place with the Angels.
They’re now 8-3 against Los Angeles this season and 5-0 at the Coliseum. And surely they’ve experienced a psychological rebound after dropping eight of their previous 10 before the Angels arrived in town.
But as the A’s go for a sweep Sunday before a national television audience, there’s concern over the health of closer Sean Doolittle. The lefty notched his second save in as many nights but came up wincing on his final two pitches of Saturday’s game.
Doolittle said he felt a “grab” in his right side on his second-to-last pitch to Erick Aybar. He was able to grit through another pitch and get Aybar to hit into a game-ending comebacker, but the All-Star closer was put through a series of mobility tests in the trainer’s room after.
“It wasn't like a pop or anything like that,” Doolittle said. “It was like a grab. I took a couple deep breaths and it went away. I felt it on the next pitch. Initially, it was real tight and it grabbed. By the time we got through the high-five line and got back up here, I was able to do all the stuff that the trainers put me through, all the tests. They didn’t feel a need to do anything more than ice it.”
Doolittle said he’d know more based on how he feels Sunday, but an injury of any degree to a player who’s been so instrumental to the A’s success raises a red flag.
Manager Bob Melvin was asked if he was concerned.
“Yeah, always potentially, when your closer feels something,” he said.
Outside of that, the A’s have to be pleased with what’s transpired so far this weekend. Winning the opener was big with Lester waiting in the wings Saturday. He proceeded to throw seven innings of one-run ball, striking out seven and walking one. The Angels scratched out just two hits through the first six innings, and neither of them left the infield. Angels MVP candidate Mike Trout went down swinging in all three at-bats against Lester.
It was the kind of effort the A’s need as Lester leads their pitching staff in the pursuit of a third consecutive division championship, though the lefty said he’s not taking the mound with that in mind.
“No matter what type of expectation or anything else that people put on me, I'm sure it's not going to be as high as I put on myself,” Lester said. “…. Every time I go out there, whether it's a start in the middle of April or a start in October, I'm going to give you the same effort, have the same preparation and go out there and compete my butt off.”
Melvin said Lester’s intensity can be felt by the teammates playing behind him. Whatever the motivation, the A’s defense came up big, from left fielder Craig Gentry’s throw to nail David Freese at second in the seventh, to shortstop Andy Parrino throwing to third to erase Collin Cowgill and stunt an Angels rally in the first.
Now the A’s are shooting for a sweep in the first prime-time Sunday game at the Coliseum since 2005.
Their recipe for success is no secret. Great pitching, sure-handed defense and just enough runs, regardless of the manner in which they’re scored.