An improved lineup showed on Friday why the A's have dramatically separated themselves from the Mariners in the standings since midseason.
OAKLAND, Calif. — It didn’t take long for Blake Beavan to realize these aren’t the Oakland Athletics everyone’s gotten used to seeing over the years.
The A’s, much like the Mariners, spent much of the past few seasons earning a reputation as a team that scraps together runs to support stellar pitching. But the A’s continued to demonstrate in an 8-2 win over the Mariners on Friday night that they now can play big ball to go along with all the small ball.
Coco Crisp and Stephen Drew hit a pair of home runs off Beavan for the decisive margin of victory before the game was even three innings old. And then, when the Mariners began booting the ball around later, the A’s took full advantage by scoring their traditional one-base-at-a-time way.
“I just couldn’t get the ball down those first two innings,” Beavan said. “I tried to get the ball down and make adjustments on the fly. The first two innings kind of hurt me a bit. After the second inning, I felt I started to get better but I still wasn’t very good.”
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The middle of Oakland’s lineup now boasts three guys with at least 20 home runs.
And it was the top two guys doing the big ball damage in front of 16,376 at the Coliseum who came to see whether the A’s could continue to hold off the Los Angeles Angels in the wild-card race. The Angels won at Texas, but the A’s remained two games up after erupting for four seventh-inning runs.
Beavan was in trouble from his very first batter when Crisp popped his 11th homer of the season.
“That’s not the type of guy that’s usually going to do something to you,” Beavan said.
Drew isn’t exactly Barry Bonds either, but he had four homers his first 33 games with Oakland before adding No. 5 in the third. Trayvon Robinson had hit a home run of his own in the second inning off Oakland starter A.J. Griffin to tie the game before Drew made it 3-1. The A’s added another run in the fifth on a passed ball by catcher John Jaso with Oliver Perez having replaced Beavan with two outs.
Michael Saunders hit a solo homer off Sean Doolittle in the seventh to cut the lead to 4-2. But in the bottom of the inning, the A’s picked away at reliever Charlie Furbush with two walks and an infield single to load the bases with none out. Stephen Pryor then tried to stop the bleeding, but Yoenis Cespedes drew a full-count walk off him to score another Oakland run.
Seattle had a chance to escape on a double-play grounder hit to Dustin Ackley. But his throw home for the attempted force out pulled Jaso off the plate.
Everyone was safe, another run scored and then a single to center by Josh Donaldson brought the final two markers in to erase any doubt.
“That’s something that I’ve struggled with,” Ackley said of the throw home. “I struggled with it last year. I remember a throw that I had. And then, this year I’ve had two, at least, like that.”
This isn’t just a case of the A’s enjoying a brief September hot streak. The Mariners have proudly pointed to the seven guys in their offense with 10 or more homers, as well as the fact they’ve now hit a long ball in each of their past 17 games.
But the A’s have taken things to another level, going from scoring 3.7 runs per game in the first half to 5.0 per contest since.
It’s a big reason they have the best record in baseball since June 2 — the day they snapped a nine-game losing streak. Some in-season pitching additions from the minors, like Griffin, now 7-1 with a 2.71 earned-run average, have helped. But so has the team’s newfound ability to strike quickly via the long ball, as witnessed a couple of weeks ago at Safeco Field.
That, with the team’s traditional ability to work counts and scrap for runs makes them a potentially dangerous playoff opponent.
“When we’re in the game like we were, throughout … we’ve got to stay in the game,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “We’ve got to keep it tight, so that with a single, a home run, or if you put an inning together, you tie it, or you win the ballgame.”
But that’s tough to do when your team makes mistakes against an opponent now capable of scoring in a multitude of ways.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.