OAKLAND -- Dan Straily's early wildness helped the Rangers take an early lead in their 6-2 win over the A's this afternoon. And Nelson Cruz's three-run homer on the first pitch reliever Jesse Chavez threw upon entering the game in the fifth was a critical blow. But A's manager Bob Melvin afterward there may have been no play more important in the game than Cruz's backhand dive to rob Brandon Moss of potential extra bases and the A's of two runs in the bottom of the sixth.
"If there's one particular play in this game that had the biggest effect, it was that one," Melvin said.
After getting no-hit through five innings by Rangers starter Alexi Ogando, the A's were showing signs of life in the sixth. Eric Sogard doubled and scored two batters later on Derek Norris' sacrifice fly, and Jed Lowrie and Yoenis Cespedes hit back-to-back singles to bring up Moss, who hit a sinking line drive to right-center that appeared headed for the gap. Cruz, though, dove and made a highlight-reel catch to preserve a 6-1 lead.
It's total speculation as to whether the ball falling in would have affected the outcome of the game. If the ball gets by Cruz, though, both runners score easily and the inning keeps going with Moss at least on second. It was also starting to feel like if the A's could chip away at the lead and get the crowd into it a little they might be in position to make a late push, while the Rangers would be forced to play things differently with their bullpen.
"That was like a, man, get down for us, we need you," Chavez said. "I thought there was no way that's going to be caught. Next thing you know we're going back on defense."
Moss said he thought he had a hit off the bat, but Cruz "got a good read on it and took a chance, dove and made a great play." Catcher John Jaso, watching the game on TV from the clubhouse after being hit by a pitch on his right shin, said he too thought Moss had a double.
"But I've seen Cruz do it before," Jaso said. "He's kind of a sneaky outfielder, because he's big and you don't think he should be moving. But he gets to balls."
Cruz told reporters after the game he "had four or five steps before I got to the ball. I thought I had a chance before I dived." He was also asked if he was happier with the catch or the homer off Chavez.
"I think the catch in that situation was nice," he said.
* Tomorrow's print story focuses on another inconsistent start by Dan Straily, who now has a 7.27 ERA in five outings with the A's this season. Straily allowed five runs and 11 baserunners in 4 1/3 innings on four hits, four walks, two hit batters and an error.
"He just had trouble executing multiple pitches in a row," Melvin said. "You saw the ball-strike ratio (47 strikes, 40 balls), which wasn't great. ... And other times in the first couple innings it looked like he had a good slider. He just needs to be a little more consistent and get on a roll."
Straily got into trouble with two outs in the third inning when he hit Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus on consecutive pitches to load the bases. Lance Berkman followed with a single to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead. Straily said both inside pitches were sliders that got away.
"Sometimes you get baseballs that basically feel like marbles, they're just really smooth," he said. "I tried to rub it down with the sweat I had, felt like I had a grip, but obviously I didn't and they just spun out of my hand."
Straily said he and pitching coach Curt Young had discussed being more aggressive in the strike zone after his last start, and he tried to make it an emphasis today.
"Sometimes (I was) right there, sometimes not," he said. "I don't really know what happened. I can't really explain it. It was not a lack of focus, not a lack of anything. I was missing spots. At least I was missing down, not up over the plate."
Following today's news that Brett Anderson isn't expected back "for the foreseeable future" -- Melvin's words -- the A's will go forth with Straily staying in the rotation, the manager said.
* Chavez did well to settle down after allowing the home run to Cruz and salvage the A's bullpen with 3 2/3 innings. He didn't give up a run after the homer and got the A's to the ninth. But he wasn't pleased with the pitch to Cruz, which he said was supposed to be a fastball up that he left over the plate.
"I can't make that mistake in that situation," Chavez said. "I need to pitch the way I would if I started that inning, go for the shallow fly ball, keep (the runner) at third, or get a ground ball. Just a mental mistake right there."
Melvin said it was "probably the only bad pitch (Chavez) threw." Chavez allowed two more hits and a walk the rest of the way. Melvin said that whereas earlier this season Chavez was throwing his fastball and slider at similar velocities, making it easier for hitters to time him, he has since started mixing in a slower curveball that makes him less predictable.
"The last few times we've seen him pitch it's been a big difference from what we saw before," Melvin said.
Chavez didn't take much solace in preserving the rest of the bullpen.
"It's better for us to come back from 3-2 instead of 6-2," he said. "Other than that it was kind of a wash. I just need to come in and keep the team close, and I didn't do my job."
* Jaso was hit on the right shin in the fourth inning and stayed in to run the bases, but came out in the fifth as part of a double switch. He said the area started to tighten up on him, making it difficult to squat
"That was a pretty good shot he took, right on the shin bone," Melvin said. "Felt like it would probably go away, but it bothered him. But after the game, reasonably sure he'll be fine after the off-day."
Before leaving the game, Jaso sounded impressed by what he saw from Ogando, who came out after six innings having allowed two runs on four hits. Ogando broke into the majors as a hard-throwing reliever and has since made the move to the Texas rotation.
"He's a different pitcher now," Jaso said. "It looks like he's using four different pitches, and before all you used to see was 98 coming at you and trying to throw as hard as he can. He's getting a little more refined with being a starter."
* The A's had a good opportunity Tuesday night to secure at least a series win over the Rangers, but squandered a 4-3 lead in the eighth inning before losing in extras and saw the Rangers take the series -- and a seven-game lead in the division -- today.
Monday night's win was promising for its familiar formula -- good starting pitching, a couple of home runs, shut-down innings by the bullpen. But it stands as one of two wins in the last 10 games for the A's, who go into the off day two games under .500 at 20-22.
Melvin admitted Tuesday "would have been a nice game to finish off and win," but said the A's can't dwell. The Royals arrive Friday in a similar spot, hovering around .500 and having lost 3 of 10 going into their game tonight against the Angels.
"We're not playing well here and we haven't for a period of time, and you have to try to power through this thing and win some games," Melvin said. "Then you get your guys back and get some confidence and get on a roll."
The A's will have tomorrow to regroup, and so will we. Back for a 7:05 p.m. first pitch on Friday.
-- Matt Kawahara