Melvin: 'We can score in a number of ways; right now we're getting the long ball'
Coco Crisp hit his 21st home run of the season Thursday night. He hit 11 in 2012. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
OAKLAND -- Coco Crisp was surprised to be voted the team's most inspirational player by his peers earlier in the day. But none of his teammates were surprised when their center fielder ruptured an eighth inning tie with a no-doubt blast off Twins reliever Shairon Martis.
Crisp's two-run shot ensured the A's kicked off the their final homestand of the 2013 regular season with a bang; Thursday night's 8-6 victory over the Minnesota Twins lasted three hours and 41 minutes, included five lead changes and 11 pitchers, and dropped the A's magic number to repeat as AL West champions down to four.
Between the two teams, fifteen batters came to the plate in a back-and-forth sixth inning.
Dan Straily watched from the dugout as his one-run lead became a one-run deficit, but the A's offense was there to reclaim control. With two outs in the bottom of the sixth, Alberto Callaspo and Jed Lowrie book-ended singles by Coco Crisp and Josh Donaldson with home runs for a four-run rally that seemed to put the game out of reach.
The three blasts gave the A's an MLB-best 74 home runs since the All-Star break, and an MLB-best 60 in their last 40 games.
It looked as if Straily would limit the Twins to two or fewer runs, as A's starting pitchers had done to opponents in 10 of the last 11 games, but the bullpen allowed his two inherited runners to cross the plate.
Depending on how the Rangers fare in Kansas City, the A's have a chance to clinch the division at home before hitting the road for the final two series of the regular season on Monday.
Starting pitcher report
Dan Straily entered Thursday's game as the hottest starting pitcher on MLB's hottest team. Straily was 4-0 with a 1.90 ERA over his last four starts and the A's owned baseball's best record since Aug. 25 at 17-6.
Straily walked off the mound in the sixth inning in line for the win, having allowed zero earned runs. But his bullpen failed him, allowing both inherited runners to score and footing Straily with an ERA over three.
Straily was at his best when things got tough in the fifth inning, striking out leadoff batter Alex Presley with the bases loaded and one out. Straily buried a slider in the dirt, showing great faith in Stephen Vogt to keep the ball in front with a runner at third. Straily stranded all three that inning, killing a rally built on an error and a walk.
The slider was working for the A's right-hander, as he recorded four of his six strikeouts with it. He upped his season strikeout total to 119, which leads all American League rookies and ranks sixth among rookies in Oakland history.
As manager Bob Melvin indicated before the game, the key for Straily is location. The right-hander was accurate Thursday night, throwing first-pitch strikes to 16 of the 24 batters he faced. Sixty six of his 105 pitches were in the zone.
Straily ran out of gas in the sixth inning, though, and his inability to finish the frame was his demise. He threw wild pitches with his 101st and 103rd pitches of the night to put a runner on third, then walked Josh Willingham to coax Bob Melvin from the dugout.
Straily's final line: 5 2/3 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 2 WP, 105 P.
Dan Otero inherited a tough situation in the sixth inning, nursing a one-run lead with runners on the corners and two outs. The normally sure-handed Daric Barton wasn't able to rescue him. Yosmil Pinto fired a laser his way and it caromed off the first baseman and into foul ground, allowing the tying run to score. Otero then walked Chris Parmelee on five pitches before Melvin had seen enough.
Brett Anderson inherited an equally difficult situation, with the bases loaded and two outs in a tie game. He couldn't preserve it, as an infield single by Pedro Florimon gave the Twins a 3-2 lead.
After the A's made Anderson the pitcher of record with a four-run sixth, he struck out the side in the seventh inning, but not before he gave up a solo home run to Oswaldo Arcia to cut the lead to two.
Ryan Cook started the eighth inning and was not sharp. Four of the five batters he faced reached safely, pushing across two runs to tie the game at six. After allowing three earned runs in his previous 29 games, Cook has now allowed five earned runs over his last five appearances, an alarming statistic for a man the A's are counting on to be their right-handed setup man.
Jesse Chavez applied the tourniquet, striking out the only batter he faced. And Sean Doolittle entered to record the inning's final out and strand Cook's two runners. Doolittle pitched a perfect ninth to record the win.
At the plate
No, Coco Crisp didn't steal his 20th base, to become the 10th 20-20 player in A's history, but he did add his 21st home run, and it was a big one. The A's leadoff hitter was honored with the "Catfish" Hunter Award on Thursday and continued to inspire Thursday night.
Jed Lowrie isn't your prototypical No. 3 hitter, but he is getting it done for the A's. Lowrie delivered a key home run -- his 13th -- in the exciting sixth inning, punctuating a four-run, two-out rally that turned a 3-2 deficit into a 6-3 lead.
After two quick outs, Alberto Callaspo was called on to pinch hit, despite the fact A's pinch hitters were batting .138 (18-for-130) before Thursday. He replaced Eric Sogard and delivered his third home run with the A's and eighth on the season. It tied the game at three and drew big smiles from Sogard in the dugout.
The A's were kept off the scoreboard in the second inning, and poor baserunning was to blame. Josh Reddick walked, then was caught stealing by the pitcher. And after a single by Seth Smith, Daric Barton deposited a ball in the right-field corner for a double that would have scored Reddick easily. Not so for Smith, who was cut down by a perfect relay. No runs on a leadoff walk and two hits can only be seen as an opportunity missed.
But Reddick made up for his baserunning mistake two innings later when he followed Brandon Moss' leadoff walk by shooting a double into the left-center gap. Josh Willingham's poor rout to the ball allowed it to scoot to the wall and prompted Mike Gallego to send Moss home for a tie game. Reddick then displayed strong baserunning, advancing to third on a wild pitch, dancing off the bag to draw attention away from Seth Smith's infield single, and tagging up to make it 2-1 on Stephen Vogt's sacrifice fly.
Brandon Moss turned around a 90-mph cutter from Kevin Correia in the fifth inning and came up feet short of his team-leading 28th home run. Instead, he was stuck with a stand-up double, and consecutive flyouts to right field from Josh Reddick and Seth Smith left stranded him.
The A's collected 11 hits, getting one from every position except the catcher, where Stephen Vogt went 0-for-3 with a sacrifice fly.
In the field
It was not a crisp defensive game for the A's.
Jed Lowrie, whose 18 defensive miscues rank second among all American League fielders, committed a costly error in the third inning. His off-balance throw past Daric Barton and into the Twins dugout put a runner on second with no outs, and Chris Parmelee scored the game's first run -- of the unearned variety -- when he barely beat Stephen Vogt's tag on a fielder's choice to Eric Sogard.
Josh Donaldson failed to cleanly field a ground ball off the bat of Josh Willingham in the fifth inning, committing an error in his third consecutive game. He now has errors in four of his last seven contests and 16 on the season, which is tied for the lead among AL third basemen. Donaldson made a spectacular sprawling play towards the line in the sixth inning, but Pedro Floriman beat his throw across the diamond to allow Straily's third run.
The A's, who are dead last in the majors in double plays with 106 prior to Thursday, turned a nice one in the third inning. Lowrie fed Sogard fed Daric Barton for the 6-4-3 inning-ender. The Oakland record for fewest double plays in a non-strike season is 115, set in 1980, and it's in jeopardy.
The A's announced a paid attendance of 11,461. Fans only have three more regular season home games to impress owner Lew Wolff...
The A's continue their final home series of the 2013 regular season against Minnesota Friday night with right-handed pitcher Bartolo Colon (16-6, 2.73 ERA) opposing Twins left-hander Andrew Albers (2-3, 3.81 ERA).