A's thrive in playoff atmosphere

September 15, 2012, 6:41 am
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BOX SCORE

OAKLAND Things were different at the Oakland Coliseum Friday night. After working their loyal fan base into a froth with a second consecutive 6-1 road trip, the A's returned home to a raucous sellout crowd and a matchup with serious playoff implications.And they thrived. "It was incredible," third baseman Josh Donaldson said. "I got chills out there."The 35,067 paid attendance got chills when Donaldson initiated 5-4-3 inning-ending double plays in the fourth and sixth -- two of the A's four double plays of the night. "For a guy who was catching last year, to be able to play the defense he has for us has been spectacular," Melvin said. "He was a key part of the game tonight."Donaldson's bare-handed play in the eighth inning looked to be the defensive play of the game, until Derek Norris gunned down pinch runner Xavier Avery to end the game. "You don't see that too often," Melvin said. "That's the best throw we've seen (Norris) make." Yes, the defense was there. But a playoff team has pitching too, and Tommy Milone showed, again, that the A's have the pitching. He set the tone with first-pitch strikes to 20 of the first 21 batters he faced, and he seemed to get tougher with runners on base."That's really impressive. That's the kind of start we've seen from him all year," Melvin said. "Bends at times, but doesn't break."Milone had been 1-3 with a 6.75 ERA in his last five starts, but recaptured his early season dominance, looking like the pitcher that went 5-1 with a 0.91 ERA in his first eight starts. The rookie's "vintage" effort earned him a place in the record books as the first Oakland A's freshman to win 13 games."I was congratulating him on tying it and the next thing he said is, 'It's time to break it,'" Melvin said. "Just a long, long list of great pitchers here, to be able to break that record is a nice feather in his cap."Milone departed with the tying runner on base, and Pat Neshek, Ryan Cook and Grant Balfour preserved his record-breaking victory when they combined for two and two-thirds innings of relief, recording three strikeouts in facing the minimum number of Orioles."The bullpen came in and took over and did what we've seen them do for the better part of the season," Melvin said.The adage states that pitching and defense win championships, but it can't be done without a little offense. The A's, who have hit the second most home runs in the majors since the All Star break, got their boost in the fourth inning when Yoenis Cespedes went deep for the third time in the last four games. Cespedes arrived at the ballpark day-to-day with a sprained right wrist, but he played all nine innings and backed up his pregame claim that he'd rest when the team gets a championship. "It's tough to give him a full day's rest at this point in the season," Melvin said. "Obviously, that was a huge home run tonight."Every pitch means the world in playoff baseball, and Friday's game had that feel, with the sellout crowd hanging on every offering."Our fans were into it," Melvin acknowledged. "It was back and forth. It was an exciting game. It had a little bit different atmosphere."It all came back to the atmosphere. "It's awesome to have the people out there like that," Balfour said after recording his 18th save of the season. "The fans we have are awesome. They get into it. Just to see that many people. It really makes a huge difference for us, I can tell you that as a player."Balfour's call to action for Oakland fans shouldn't be necessary. The A's are playing exciting baseball, and Friday night they showcased their ability to thrive when the pressure is highest."Those close ballgames like that, to come out on top is big," Balfour said. "You know going into the playoffs you're not going to have a blowout game. You're going to have two good teams, good pitching. It's going to be close, going to be tight. It's good to come out on top tonight."And you better believe the atmospheric change registered in the A's clubhouse."Heck yeah," Donaldson said. "Everywhere you go, everybody's got their A's gear on wanting to talk A's baseball. It's a great atmosphere in the city of Oakland."It's a playoff atmosphere.

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