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

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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.

And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

Associated Press
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Hope you had a nice weekend. Mine consisted of a lot of sniffling sneezing coughing aching stuffy head, fever and, thus, NyQuil and bed rest which (a) meant I went to bed too early Saturday night to see Sean Manaea‘s no-hitter but which allowed me to (b) lay in bed most of yesterday afternoon and see a bunch of games. Not exactly a wash, but if you have to be sick thank God for day baseball. And thank God for NyQuill.

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Phillies 3, Pirates 2: It was 2-2 from the fifth until the bottom of the 11th, and that’s when Aaron Knapp tripled and Aaron Altherr singled him in for the walkoff win. The Phillies completed a four-game sweep of the Pirates. It was their first four-game sweep of Pittsburgh in 24 years. There was a time when “in 24 years” seemed like a long time ago — like, that should be in the 1980s or something — but it was 1994 and I had just finished my junior year of college. You lose decades after a certain age. Oh well, the Phillies have won 13 of 16 since we all decided Gabe Kapler didn’t know what he was doing. Guess he figured it out.

Rays 8, Twins 6: The Rays had a 6-3 lead, blew it, and it was tied 6-6 in the bottom of the ninth when Carlos Gomez came up to bat and hit a two-run walkoff homer. Gomez said that he told his son that he’d hit a homer for him in this game. He was 0-for-his-first 4, though, with three strikeouts before the blast. Phew. For the Twins, Brian Dozier extended his hitting streak to 23 games, dating back to September 22 of last year. It’s weird that we count hitting streaks that way. Of course it’d be weird if we didn’t count them that way too, as everyone would still be talking about last year’s games, so I dunno. The world isn’t always perfect and there aren’t always satisfying answers. You may lose decades when you get older but you gain the ability to deal with ambiguity and even embrace a lack of cosmic resolution in things. That sort of zen is one of the best parts of getting older, even if people tend to fight it rather than accept it.

Athletics 4, Red Sox 1: A day after getting no-hit by Sean Manaea, Daniel Mengden and his twirly mustache held the Red Sox to one run on six hits in six and a third and the bullpen took it the rest of the way. I’d say who woulda thunk that the A’s of all teams would cool off the red hot Red Sox bats, but it’s not like any team is going to continue to score 7-10 runs a game ad inifinitum. Khris Davis knocked in all four of the A’s runs, the first one on a ground ball single in the first and the last three with a three-run homer in the eighth, both coming off of David Price. As for Mengden, I like him a lot, but not because of his mustache. I like the way he works from the full windup. This is from a game last year, but check this out:

I was watching him yesterday and he seems to have cut down a bit on that rocking motion, but he still goes both-arms-over-the-head like that. I love it because, even though I know not every pitcher did that back in the 1970s and 80s when I was beginning to watch baseball, it sort of felt like everyone did. It was how kids would pitch when emulating pitchers back then and it didn’t seem weird. I don’t know when that went out of style in favor of the bring-the-arms-in-towards-the-chest thing. I know Paul Byrd pitched like that his whole career and it didn’t feel weird when he did it. I don’t know, maybe I’m just remembering three random dudes who did that and I’m totally misrepresenting baseball history here. You misremember a lot of stuff when you get older too. Anyway: I’m on team Mengden.

Royals 8, Tigers 5: The Tigers took a 2-0 lead but Whit Merrifield hit a solo shot and Abraham Almonte hit a grand slam in the sixth inning to make it 5-2. Then the Tigers tied it up but Mike Moustakas hit a three-run shot in the seventh inning to make it 8-5. “And STAY down,” he said. Or thought. Maybe.

Yankees 5, Blue Jays 1: Top prosepct Gleyber Torres made his big league debut and went 0-for-4. He’ll have better days. Maybe days like Miguel Andujar, who went 4-for-4, had. Austin Romine doubled in a couple and Didi Gregorius smacked a dinger. Luis Severino didn’t need that much support, as allowed only one run on three hits over seven.

Indians 7, Orioles 3: Jose Ramirez hit two homers — a solo shot in the fourth inning and a two-run drive in the ninth — to help Corey Kluber get his third win of the season. Manny Machado homered in a losing cause. The O’s have lost nine of ten.

Astros 7, White Sox 1: Lance McCullers scattered a bunch of hits while allowing one run over six, while Marwin Gonzalez and Evan Gattis each drove in a couple. Houston sweeps the White Sox, outscoring Chicago 27-2 in the three-game series. The Sox have lost seven in a row, giving up 53 runs on those games.

Brewers 4, Marlins 2: Junior Guerra allowed one run — unearned — in five innings and the bullpen allowed one more run — also unearned — in the final four frames. Both of the unearned runs were attributable to the catcher, as the guy who scored in the first inning reached on a catcher’s interference and the runner who scored in the eighth got into scoring position on a passed ball. Of course, it still took hits in both cases for the runs to come in, so it’s not like the pitcher wasn’t at least partly responsible. I am fairly fascinated with blame apportionment when it comes to unearned runs. It makes me wonder which pitcher benefitted most from runs which, while technically unearned because of an error, were really on him anyway because he gave up a bunch of hits later, failing to limit the damage. Or which were unearned because of his own error. Like, I know Bob Gibson’s ERA in 1968 would not have risen to 3.68 if you analyzed things that way, but I’m sure someone, somewhere, got just under 3.00 to 2.98 or something due to the unearned run rules, thereby changing the way he was viewed in a given year as a result. Someone give me a $250,000 advance on a book to study this, please.

Cardinals 9, Reds 2: Close until the seventh when the Cards put up three thanks to a Paul DeJong three-run homer and then added three more in the eighth. Miles Mikolas allowed two runs — one earned — over seven. I’m too lazy to analyze the unearned run situation in this game, though, and no one has given me the advance I mentioned above just yet. Not doing it for free, folks.  Anyway, the Reds got swept and now they go home to play the Braves today. Maybe. I have tickets to that game so, of course, the forecast calls for a lot of rain. Maybe the Reds need a rainout, but I sort of hope Mother Nature doesn’t let them have one. It’s like 100 miles in the car each way for me and I don’t wanna waste the trip.

Diamondbacks 4, Padres 2: The Snakes scored all four of their runs in the fourth, two on a Nick Ahmed homer, one on Patrick Corbin single and one on a delayed steal thingie in which Padres pitcher Joey Lucchesi threw the ball away. In addition to knocking in that run, Corbin dominated the Padres, winning his fourth game of the year with 11-strikeouts over six two-hit, two-run innings.

Rangers 7, Mariners 4: Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo each hit dongs in the fourth inning as the Rangers avoid a sweep at the hands of the M’s. Rangers starter Martin Perez allowed two over six innings, lowering his ERA from 13.14 to 9.82. Yay, progress!

Cubs 9, Rockies 7: Chicago built up a 6-0 lead after three innings, let the Rockies back in it and then added three more later and held on. In other words, just another afternoon at Coors Field. Javier Baez homered and later doubled in two. He also got cute and blocked D.J. LeMahieu when the latter was trying, it seemed, to steal signs. LeMahieu didn’t like that, but well, tough:

Kris Bryant left this one in the first inning after getting beaned — the ball hit the bill of his helmet and spun the dang thing around without it even falling off his head — but he passed his initial concussion tests, so here’s hoping it’s not serious.

Giants 4, Angels 2: There was some history here as Brandon Belt and Jaime Barria faced off in a 21-pitch at bat, which was the longest since they began keeping track of such things 30 years ago. Barria ended up winning that battle when Belt lined up to right field for the game’s first out. Here you go if you like foul balls and/or building tension:

The Giants won the war, however, as Barria couldn’t make it out of the third inning, having tossed 77 pitches. As soon as he left Evan Longoria hit a two-run homer and Belt would add a solo shot later. Johnny Cueto, meanwhile, was more economical and shut the Angels down for six innings.

Dodgers 4, Nationals 3: Washington took a 3-0 lead over Alex Wood and the Dodgers by the top of the sixth but L.A. came back when Yasmani Grandal and Cody Bellinger hit RBI doubles of the two-run and one-run variety, respectively. Corey Seager put the Dodgers up for good with a sac fly in the seventh and the bullpen held on. The Dodgers won their sixth in seven games and climbed back to .500 after a slow start to the season.

Mets vs. Braves — POSTPONED:

Tried to get your attention all night long
Asked you once, I asked you twice, asked you four times
If you’d like to dance to that song
Front crawled the crowd down the stairs
And I followed you out in the rain, nowhere to be found
Never mind, you’ll probably never look that pretty again

You’re not nineteen forever, pull yourself together
I know it seems strange but things, they change
Older woman and an ever so slightly younger man
God bless the band, they’re doing all they can

You’re not nineteen forever
You’re not nineteen forever
You’re not nineteen forever
It’s not big, it’s definitely not clever