A's escape from New York


A's escape from New York


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.

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"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."

A's GM Forst feels passion of fans, will not second-guess decisions

A's GM Forst feels passion of fans, will not second-guess decisions

A’s general manager David Forst says he has a stack of strongly worded letters from fans who grow frustrated with many of the team’s personnel moves.

That comes with the territory of running a major league front office. But Forst also said, during a wide-ranging interview on the latest A’s Insider Podcast, that honest critiquing must come from within office walls.

“You do want to do some self-evaluation and self-assessing,” Forst said. “What I don’t do, I don’t go back and second-guess decisions, whether it’s a trade or a signing. I don’t sort of hypothetically think, ‘Well, what if we hadn’t done this,’ because it’s not a good use of anybody’s time. What you do have to do is make sure the process that led to that decision is sound and a good one.”

Certainly one of the most scrutinized A’s moves of recent history was their signing of designated hitter Billy Butler to a three-year $30 million contract in November 2014. That turned out to be a costly mistake, with Butler being released in September with one year left on his deal and the A’s still on the hook for roughly $10 million. Forst acknowledged how poorly that decision worked out but sticks by the initial motivation to sign Butler.

“Look, Billy Butler didn’t go the way we expected, and that’s one that gets brought up a lot,” Forst said. “But I think back to the time when we made that decision to sign him, and what we were projecting Billy to do. It was very clear what our team needed. Again, going into 2015, coming off the wild card that year, we still felt like this was a team that could compete for a division title. So all the things that went into the decision, ultimately I will stand by.”

Forst spoke frankly about several other topics during the podcast. Regarding fans’ frustration about seeing so many high-profile players traded:

“I’ve got a stack of letters on my desk, the substance of which I can’t repeat on the air,” he said with a smile. “… But there’s passion. And I know we have a fan base that cares, and that’s really a good place to be.”

Forst said the A’s definitely will pursue starting pitching this offseason, despite the fact that 1) he’s very optimistic about the crop of young pitching Oakland has developed, and 2) he believes Sonny Gray will bounce back from a poor 2016 season. The GM takes encouragement that Gray made a full physical recovery from a strained forearm.

“Am I going to get the Cy Young (caliber pitcher) from Day 1? I don’t know. But I think there’s a confidence that this was an aberration, this whole year, more than anything else.”

Crisp homers as Indians shut out Blue Jays to advance to World Series


Crisp homers as Indians shut out Blue Jays to advance to World Series


TORONTO -- A most unlikely pitching performance helped put a most unexpected team into the World Series.

Rookie Ryan Merritt coolly delivered a lead to the Andrew Miller-led bullpen and the Cleveland Indians won their first pennant since 1997, blanking Toronto 3-0 Wednesday in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series.

Cleveland, which has never hosted a World Series opener, will play Game 1 at Progressive Field on Tuesday night against either the Chicago Cubs or Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Indians will try to boost what's already been a magical year in Cleveland after LeBron James and the Cavaliers earned the city's first sports championship since 1964. The Indians' title drought dates to 1948.

The Dodgers led the Cubs 2-1 going into Game 4 of the NLCS on Wednesday night. Cleveland didn't play either team this season.

With all of 11 major league innings under his belt, Merritt took the mound and looked just like a seasoned vet. The 24-year-old lefty retired the first 10 batters and allowed only two hits before being pulled after 4 1/3 innings.

Then it was up to Cleveland's tireless relievers to hold a three-run lead.

Miller again did most of the heavy lifting, pitching 2 2/3 innings, and Cody Allen pitched the ninth for the save. Winner Bryan Shaw worked an inning before Miller came in.

Carlos Santana and Coco Crisp homered for the Indians.