A’s ride the backs of Balfour, Cook, Doolittle


For the A’s, it’s as easy as B, C, D

In sweeping the Rangers to win the AL West this week, the A’s had Grant Balfour, Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle pitch the final three innings of all three games. They didn’t go in that order — Balfour had the ninth, while the other two alternate in the seventh and eighth — but they are pretty much interchangable. They combined to allow three hits in nine scoreless innings between the three games.

It wasn’t just those three games either. Cook hasn’t allowed a run in 14 appearances. Balfour has gone 10 straight without giving up a run. Doolittle is the ugly duckling of the group, having allowed a run just last week.

But Doolittle is the best story. A supplemental first-round pick as a first baseman five years ago, he just made the move to the mound last year. He entered 2012 with a total of one inning of game experience, that coming in Rookie ball at the end of 2007. After quickly tearing through the minors, he arrived on June 5 and struck out three Rangers in 1 1/3 innings. Five days later, he struck out five Diamondbacks in two innings. He’ll now head into the postseason with a 60/11 K/BB ratio and a 3.04 ERA in 47 1/3 innings.

Cook was the lesser name the A’s picked up from the Diamondbacks along with Jarrod Parker in the Trevor Cahill deal. He got his first taste of the majors last year, giving up six runs in 7 2/3 innings. This year, he started off with 23 straight scoreless innings before finally giving up a run on May 28. He replaced the struggling Balfour in the closer’s role in June and was named Oakland’s lone All-Star a month later. At the end of July, he hit a rough patch of his own, blowing four saves in five opportunities. The A’s gave the closer’s role back to Balfour then, but Cook didn’t sulk. From Aug. 11 on, he allowed runs in just one of  his 23 appearances. He finished the season with a 2.09 ERA.

And then there’s the 35-year-old Balfour, the veteran of Oakland’s staff since Bartolo Colon was suspended. Unlike pretty much every other pitcher the A’s are relying on right now, Balfour has a history of success that extends beyond this year. That said, he was beset by arm problems throughout his 20s and never established himself as a major leaguer until he was 30. He entered this season with 10 career saves. Now he has 34. He finished with a 2.53 ERA in a career-high 74 2/3 innings.

For the A’s manage to go deep into the postseason, one imagines the trio of relievers will have to keep doing what they’re doing. There’s been no let up through some pretty strenuous workloads this far, and with the win today, at least they can all look forward to two days off before they’ll be needed again Saturday.

Bob Uecker is basically indestructible

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Tom Haurdicourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has a story about beloved Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker’s frighteningly eventful offseason that’s definitely worth a read.

The frightening part: Uecker got bit by a brown recluse spider last October. He didn’t realize it at first and happened to show the bite to a doctor a couple of days later. The doctor realized how serious it was — brown recluses can kill people — and Uecker was rushed off to surgery. He’s fine now, back in the Brewers booth and actually joking about the spider bite.

The incident, though, leads Haudricourt to chronicle all of Uecker’s health issues over the years and the list is fairly amazing. I mean, we’ve written about some of his more recent health issues on this site, but I was unaware of just how many potentially fatal ailments Uecker has dealt with and beat in the past 25-30 years or so. Not that he’s too fazed by it all:

“I know I’m lucky. I’ve had 11 major surgeries overall. But, through all of that stuff, I made some unbelievable friends. All those doctors at Froedtert [Hospital]. We’re all friends now. So, a lot of good came out of it.”

That’s quite the perspective.

Uecker is 84. Counting his playing career he’s entering his 63rd year in baseball. He’s still one of the best, if not the best, broadcasters going. Thank goodness he wasn’t stopped by a spider of all things. Here’s hoping he keeps going for many more years to come.