NEW YORK -- After 34 innings of pure unbridled agony in the Bronx, the A's can escape New York with their heads held high. On Sunday the scrappy A's faced the possibility of suffering through a crippling sweep and found a way to salvage the series with a 5-4 win.
INSTANT REPLAY: A's 5, Yankees 4
As manager Bob Melvin said after Saturday's extra inning loss, they played their hearts out. Oakland pushed the Yankees to the limit but fell just short in the first two games. Taking the series finale is crucial as the A's head to Texas for a four-game series still in striking distance of the division-leading Rangers.
RELATED: MLB standings
"It was a big game," Melvin said. "Each and every game will be big, but probably to this point and time of the year that was our biggest win." It was the biggest game of the year until Monday's game in Texas, then Tuesday's game, and Wednesday's game, and Thursday's game, and so forth. The magic number for Oakland to clinch a spot in the Wild Card playoff game is nine. They are four games behind the Rangers in the American League West with seven games to play against Texas. "Playing these games that mean something is the coolest thing I've been a part of," Cliff Pennington said. "It's awesome."Pennington went 3 for 4 with a home run and three RBI against the Yankees on Sunday. He gave the A's a 3-0 lead in the second inning when he crushed a slider thrown by Yankees' starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda into the right field seats, and smacked the game-winning RBI single against Kuroda in the sixth inning. Pennington has turned his season around since being moved from shortstop to second base. "He's just back to the type of player that you saw last year," Melvin said. "I don't know if it has anything to do with just making that change but it kind of gave him a re-birth." Once Pennington gave the A's the lead in the sixth inning the bullpen locked down the game. The A's relievers combined to pitch five scoreless innings against the Bronx Bombers, an impressive feat especially when considering they were a depleted and tired unit after two consecutive extra innings games. "Those guys stepped up huge," Pennington said of the bullpen. "They've been stepping up huge for us all year. That's been pretty much the backbone of this team from day one anyway." Oakland's relief pitchers threw 17 23 innings in the series against the Yankees. No inning was bigger than the ninth inning on Sunday. That's when closer Grant Balfour took the mound with a one-run lead and a chance to send the A's off to Texas with some momentum. He retired the side in order but not before one moment that made the collection of A's players, and fans' hearts skip a beat. With one out Alex Rodriguez hit a towering fly ball toward the short porch in right field. Josh Reddick tracked the ball to the wall and made a hop as he caught it. The 43,867 in attendance thought the game was about to be tied at five. "I don't want to say it skips a beat, you'd have to have your eyes open for it to skip a beat," Melvin said jokingly."The way things went for us in this series you never know," Balfour said. "I knew he didn't get it good but I knew that he's strong enough. He doesn't have to hit a ball perfect to get it out especially down that right field line it's so short." Rodriguez went 0 for 5 and struck out three times. He was booed by his home crowd several times during the game. Two of the three strikeouts came with starting pitcher A.J. Griffin on the mound. He had A-Rod's number, but struggled with the rest of New York's lineup. Griffin only lasted four and one-third innings. He allowed four runs on seven hits and three walks. After starting an Oakland record 6-0, he's had two consecutive sub-par starts. "He just ran into a little bit of a tough spot," Melvin said. "They're always going to work the count and get your pitch count up, foul some balls off like they did for him." Not getting swept by the Yankees helps ensure the loose A's clubhouse doesn't start getting tense. Many of the players in the A's clubhouse haven't dealt with the pressures of a playoff chase.
"We can't play with our backs against the wall," Balfour said. "We've got to play free and easy baseball and enjoy it, give it all we've got, because we've been good all year so let's just keep going."