OAKLAND -- The 2012 A's were a perfect example of why you don't read too much into the standings in mid-May -- or early July, for that matter. So the fact that Oakland went into Monday's series opener against Texas six games behind the Rangers in the West was largely met with indifference in the A's clubhouse.
The A's were fresh off a road trip on which they went 3-7 and lost six of their last seven games. And the Rangers were coming in with the best record in baseball. And after the A's took the opener 5-1 behind seven strong innings from A.J. Griffin and five different players driving in runs, there was a sense from the A's that this wasn't your normal mid-May win.
"You don't want to put too much importance on particular games, but there are certain games during the course of the season that are a little more important than others," said manager Bob Melvin. "And this was a good game for us to play well."
The A's scored just 25 runs on the 10-game trip. Over the last seven games, their starting pitchers were 1-6 with a 6.23 ERA. Both facets were better Monday. Griffin allowed just a Mitch Moreland solo home run in seven innings, struck out eight and walked nobody. The A's got back-to-back home runs from Yoenis Cespedes and Brandon Moss to pad what had been a one-run lead after two innings.
"It was a big win for us," said reliever Sean Doolittle. "This early in the year there's not many must-win games, but we were really looking to put that road trip behind us ... kind of press reset and get back to the way we played last year, having fun, playing as a team.
"You saw guys playing with passion and energy. It was fun, and it was a really important win for us."
That it came against the Rangers, whom the A's leap-frogged to win the division on the final day of the season last year -- and the last time the two teams played on this field -- was coincidence, Doolittle said. That it came against this year's Rangers, who had won four in a row and had equaled their best start in franchise history through 37 games, was more meaningful, Melvin said.
"It was just as (important) for us just to play a good game, didn't really matter against who," Melvin said. "But the fact that they are the team that's leading the division and playing well right now, and had a nice little winning streak on top of it, lends some confidence for us."
* Griffin equaled his season high with the eight strikeouts and, after allowing Moreland's homer in the second inning, faced two batters over the minimum the rest of the way. He didn't issue a walk for the first time this season and afterward said it was "my best start command-wise in the major leagues."
"I was just really hitting my spots today," Griffin said. "I was just on the same page with Derek Norris and we were just going out there playing catch basically."
Griffin allowed leadoff singles in the third, fifth and seventh innings, but erased the latter two with double plays. In the third, after David Murphy singled and was forced out on a Leonys Martin fielder's choice, Griffin struck leadoff hitter Ian Kinsler out looking and got Elvis Andrus to pop out to Daric Barton to end the inning.
"He was filling up the zone with strikes all night, right off the bat," Doolittle said. "He was throwing his off-speed anytime he wanted to. But the main thing we saw was he was in attack mode, shutting down innings with two outs. He looked like he was in complete control all game."
The lone mistake was a fastball up in a 2-2 count that Moreland crushed. Melvin said he was most impressed with how Griffin responded.
"We've had some games where we'd get off to a rough start, we'd give up some runs, and you have to really resist ... getting down on yourself. You have to put that away," Melvin said. "Leading up to that he'd been throwing the ball well, so you can't let it get out of control."
* After Moreland homered in the top of the second, the A's responded with two runs in the bottom of the inning on two-out singles by Eric Sogard and John Jaso. One inning later, Cespedes and Moss became the second pair of A's to go back-to-back this season (Jed Lowrie and Chris Young did so April 3).
Moss said taking the lead back immediately was "big for us. That's something a few of us guys were talking about the past couple days is when we've gotten behind early, it's kind of like we deflated. ... We're a team perfectly capable of putting up four, five-run innings. We've done it all season. And I think sometimes when you go through bad stretches you forget what you're capable of."
For Moss, the home run off Texas starter Justin Grimm snapped a streak of six at-bats in a row in which he'd struck out. He fanned in his last at-bat Saturday, struck out four times on 14 pitches Sunday and went down swinging in his first at-bat against Grimm on Monday.
"It was going on a good little streak there," Moss said.
Moss got behind again 0-2 before working the count back to 2-2, fouling off a couple pitches and hitting Grimm's seventh offering off the batter's eye in center field.
"I just tried to extend the at-bat, foul pitches off, stay inside the ball," Moss said. "Finally got a good pitch and didn't foul it off or miss it.
"I'm a streaky player and things like that happen, and you just have to work your way through it, stay confident and try not to change too much," he said. "It's easy when you get down like that to change a million things, and then you look up a week later and you have no idea where you are."
* Moss found himself in an unfamiliar position in the fifth inning, when Cespedes left the game with a stomach ailment and Moss moved from right field to center, where he had one game of major-league experience before Monday.
Melvin said Cespedes' stomach problems came on during the game and the center fielder "threw up a couple times in the bathroom." He said the A's don't think it's a virus and he's hopeful Cespedes will be able to play Tuesday.
Monday, Melvin said he didn't want to risk Cespedes getting dehydrated and pulling a muscle if he kept playing, so he pulled Cespedes off the field before the fifth inning, sending Michael Taylor to right field and moving Moss to center.
"It's not my best position," Moss said. "But it's definitely not like putting me at catcher."
Moss said he was initially confused when Cespedes didn't immediately come out to start the fifth. He later found out Cespedes had left the game due to illness.
"Better that than him getting us all sick," Moss said.
* Taylor went hitless in two at-bats after entering the game and is now 1-for-22 since being called up from Triple-A. Melvin was asked about Taylor before the game and the outfielder's struggles over multiple call-ups to carry his hitting success in the minors over to the big-league level.
"He just hasn't had the quality at-bats he would like to have," Melvin said. "We still feel like the ability's there. It just hasn't translated here at this point."
Melvin compared Taylor to former first baseman Chris Carter, now with the Astros, who got a chance to play regularly as part of a platoon with Moss last year and responded with very good power numbers.
"We like to think it's the same way with Michael, because the ability is there," Melvin said. "He hasn't gotten consistent time where he's gotten three, four, five games in a row, and might not. But we still hold out hope that his ability will take over and he will have success here at some point in time."
* After Griffin departed, Sean Doolittle came in for the eighth inning and struck out the side on 12 pitches. The Rangers can't like seeing Doolittle warming up in the bullpen. In eight career appearances against Texas, Doolittle has not allowed a run in 9 1/3 innings and has 10 strikeouts.
* The teams playing may have been the same as that final weekend at the Coliseum last year, but the atmosphere certainly wasn't. The A's announced a crowd of 11,030, with much of the higher-level seating empty or close to it -- a far cry from the capacity crowds that made the stadium such an imposing place for opposing teams to play toward the end of last season and in the playoffs.
* Melvin was asked about his undershirt in his post-game news conference. Seriously. He unbuttoned the top of his jersey to reveal a Warriors T-shirt.
"I don't typically wear gold underneath," Melvin said.
Game 5 tips off tomorrow at 6:30 p.m., or about a half-hour before the A's and Rangers are at it again.
-- Matt Kawahara