Balfour: 'It took a great effort today'
Coco Crisp scored both of the A's runs in a sweep-clinching win over the White Sox Sunday in Oakland. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
OAKLAND – With 14 wins in their last 16 games, the A’s are by far the hottest team in baseball. It’s no fluke, either.
Jarrod Parker outdueled White Sox ace Chris Sale, who increased his scoreless innings streak to 28 before Oakland broke through for the decisive run in the sixth.
With the 2-0 victory Sunday, the A’s made it three straight against the White Sox for their third consecutive home series sweep. At 34-24, the A’s are a season-high 10 games over .500 and just two games back of the first-place Texas Rangers.
What’s the formula?
“Sum it up to Oakland A’s baseball,” A’s catcher Derek Norris said. “This is what we do well. We have a good starting rotation, scratch a couple runs across and close the door with our bullpen. That’s what we strive to be and we’re doing a great job of it.”
Parker credited Norris with a lot of his success in Sunday’s start, which included a 29-pitch first inning, but zeroes across the scoreboard.
“It’s just staying within myself, pitching to my strengths and following Derek,” Parker said. “My mindset is to throw as many zeroes as I can and whatever happens will happen. We just kept at it today. There’s no real pressure on us right now to keep doing what we’re doing. We’re just playing our game and I think if we stay within ourselves and do that, we’ll put ourselves in a good situation.”
After five innings of frustration against Sale, the A’s finally found themselves in a good situation in the sixth. Coco Crisp, whose likeness graced a cereal bowl on a pregame promotional giveaway, led off the inning with a walk to put the pressure on Sale. Crisp moved up to third on Jed Lowrie’s single, had to stay there as Yoenis Cespedes struck out, then broke the scoreless tie on Josh Donaldson’s sacrifice fly off Sale.
“Donaldson put together a great at-bat,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “You could tell from the minute he got up there that he wasn’t trying to do too much. He was just trying to fight the ball the other way and hit the ball in the air because that’s a difficult guy to do that against. It ended up being a huge at-bat and one run in a game like that feels like four.”
Two innings later, Crisp gave the A’s an insurance run by forcing a Chicago mistake with his speed. After singling, Crisp took off for second on a hit-and-run that Lowrie executed to perfection. Already on his way to third, Crisp got the green light to sprint home when White Sox centerfielder Jordan Danks bobbled the ball.
“In close games, [Crisp] takes attention off the pitcher,” Melvin said. “You’re always worried about walking him. There’s a lot of things that he brings to the table, especially in close games. It affects the defense and the pitcher more than anybody else. So it’s always nice to have him on base doing his thing. You’re just a little bit more on edge on the other side when he’s on base or at the plate.”
While the A’s finally broke through against Sale, Melvin didn’t let the White Sox get the same chance against Parker, who was lifted after getting the first out in the seventh inning. The high-pressure first inning, which included a 10-pitch battle with Dayan Viciedo that culminated in a strikeout, led Melvin to play it safe with his young starter.
“It was a long at-bat with Viciedo,” Parker said. “He fouled off a lot of pitches. I knew I had to be efficient and shorten the game and try and get it to our ‘pen as quick as I could. Just attack and get some early contact.”
Melvin said he was relieved that the early battle went the A’s way.
“You feel good once you get the out, but those at-bats a lot of times turn out in favor of the hitter.”
Parker only dealt with one more runner in scoring position after the first inning, then turned the ball over to the A’s trusty bullpen.
Left-hander Jerry Blevins relieved Parker and gave Melvin a big out against Adam Dunn. Ryan Cook got the last out of the seventh and followed with two strikeouts in a perfect eighth. And Grant Balfour converted his 31st straight save opportunity to complete the sweep.
“We as a starting staff are trying to get to that bullpen,” Parker said. “If we can do seven, six, whatever it takes, we know we’ve got guys in there. Blev comes in and gets a huge out. Those are the things that nobody talks about, but it’s a huge situation. He gets Dunn out and then Cook comes on and he’s electric. Those are the guys that don’t get a lot of the hype. We know Balf’s back there and he gets all the recognition, but those guys, they do their job. They’re unsung heroes for us.”
The appreciation goes both ways. Just as Parker praised his bullpen, Balfour acknowledged the resurgence of the entire A’s rotation.
“It makes our job a lot easier the more they can go out there and throw six, seven innings,” Balfour said. “We feel confident with what we’ve got down in the bullpen and what we can do.”
What Oakland has done over the last three weeks has been nothing short of impressive. The A’s head to Milwaukee for a three-game set as a deservedly confident group.
“It’s contagious winning,” Balfour said. “You see a guy get a big hit and the next guy comes up and does his job. You’re going to have your battles some nights, but do that little thing, whatever it is, to get over the edge and win that ballgame. That seems like what we’re doing right now. It’s been big.”