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May 18, 2013
Milone pulls an escape act, A's wait out Santana in 2-1 win

OAKLAND -- A's manager Bob Melvin summed up left-hander Tommy Milone's outing Saturday night against the Royals this way:

"That was Houdini."

Milone needed 63 pitches to get through two innings. He loaded the bases with nobody out in the second on a single and two walks. The Royals put their leadoff hitter on base against him in four of six innings. The A's already their bullpen working in the second.

When Milone finally did leave the 2-1 win over the Royals, though, he had completed six innings, thrown 111 pitches and stayed in long enough for the A's to scratch out two runs against Ervin Santana, making Milone a winner for the first time in six starts.

"It was gutsy," reliever Sean Doolittle said. "I don't know if it was fun to watch -- it was a little nerve-wracking at first. He really had to dig deep."

"Kid's a fighter," said second baseman Eric Sogard.

Milone's greatest escape act came in the second. After Salvador Perez led off with a base hit, Milone walked Mike Moustakas and Jeff Francoeur on close pitches, both after nine-pitch at-bats. But with the Royals already leading 1-0, Milone got Elliot Johnson to pop out to first baseman Brandon Moss in foul territory, struck out leadoff man Lorenzo Cain looking at a fastball (ending an eight-pitch at-bat) and got Alcides Escobar to swing at a high fastball for the third out.

"To do that you have to be a pretty clear thinker out there, a guy that just backs it up and worries about the moment, worries about that particular pitch," Melvin said. "I've been impressed with a lot of his outings before, but I don't know any more than that one."

Milone said he didn't have any doubts about making it out of the second inning. He said his command was in and out, but he wasn't missing by much and just had to "bear down a little bit more."

"I always feel like I'm going to make it out of every inning," Milone said. "Feel like you have to have that confidence in yourself to execute pitches."

Milone issued a leadoff walk in the third but erased it on a double play. He gave up a leadoff double to Perez in the fourth but left Perez standing on third by striking out Francoeur and Johnson. He made it through his final four innings on 48 pitches, giving Melvin a chance to deploy his usual three-man bullpen combo of Cook, Doolittle and Balfour at the end of the game.

"I definitely didn't make it easy on myself," Milone said. "But being able to come back and get out of those situations -- definitely it feels good at the end of the day."

* Like Jarrod Parker on Friday night, Milone helped the A's hang around until they could eke out a couple runs against a tough Royals starter. Saturday it was Santana, who came in with a career 2.03 ERA in 26 games against the A's -- though as Melvin pointed out, the current Oakland lineup wasn't around for most of those outings -- and held the A's scoreless for the first five innings.

Sogard led off the sixth with a double to right-center and moved to third on a wild pitch. After Coco Crisp drew a walk, Jed Lowrie drove in Sogard with a sacrifice fly. Two batters later, Brandon Moss tripled over the head of Cain in center for what turned out to be the game-winning RBI.

"That has a lot to do with our starting pitcher," Melvin said of the consecutive 2-1 wins. "It's one thing when you're fighting back from four runs down. It's another thing when it's one or run or an even game."

Moss had struck out in his first at-bat against Santana, but said he got a look at Santana's off-speed pitches in the at-bat and was able to "kind of get a feeling for what I couldn't hit and what I could hit." The triple came on an 0-2 slider that "started out (over the plate) enough to where it came back and I was able to get behind it a little bit."

One perk for Moss -- the game-winning hit came with his family in attendance and meant his 3-year-old son could join him in the clubhouse after the game.

"That's my rule," Moss said. "Have to win if you're going to come in the clubhouse."

* Sogard had lined a hit to left off Santana in his first at-bat but was thrown out at second base by Alex Gordon trying to stretch it into a double. Sogard came up arguing the call.

"I didn't feel anything, so I thought I got in," he said afterward.

It was the second night in a row an A's hitter was thrown out trying to leg out a double. Moss was the victim Friday, courtesy of right fielder David Lough. On his rally-starting double, Sogard hit a pitch that one-hopped the wall in right-center and cruised into the base without a slide.

"Made it easy for him on that one," Sogard said with a smile.

* Grant Balfour was not feeling well before the game and said afterward he his stomach was "feeling a bit woozy." He threw six of his first seven pitches for balls after entering for his second save opportunity is as many nights. But Balfour recovered to retire three hitters in a row and has now converted his last 26 save opportunities, the third-longest streak in Oakland history.

"Still kind of feel (sick) but it's one of those things," he said. "Got to get out there and do your job. It's all good."

Balfour has pitched in 17 games this season but had only eight save opportunities. He said those chances tend to "come in bunches."

"Just got to take advantage of it when you can, you know?" he said.

* Like Friday, Doolittle got the game to Balfour with a scoreless eighth. Unlike Friday, Doolittle put his full arsenal on display. Doolittle is the subject of tomorrow's print story, part of which touches on his ability to throw his off-speed pitches in high-leverage counts this season, whereas last year -- as Melvin put it -- they were mostly "for show" to keep hitters off his fastball.

Friday night, Doolittle got three outs on 13 pitches -- 12 fastballs and one curveball. On Saturday, he got ahead of Gordon 0-2 by throwing two sliders for called strikes, then came inside with a 95 mph fastball that Gordon grounded weakly to Josh Donaldson. Doolittle then threw a changeup to cleanup hitter Billy Butler in an 0-1 count and got Butler to swing through it.

"Last year he wasn't capable of doing that," Melvin said. "He used all his pitches in an inning for the first time that I can remember, and not only used them but used them effectively with intent and purpose."

* Yoenis Cespedes singled in the eighth on a line drive to left. He had been 3 for his previous 37.

* The A's go for the sweep Sunday behind A.J. Griffin (4-3, 3.48). Kansas City sends Luis Mendoza (1-2, 6.00) to the mound.

-- Matt Kawahara

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About Bay Area Baseball

Matt KawaharaMatt Kawahara was born in Sacramento and attended McClatchy High School and UC Berkeley, where he wrote for the independent student paper The Daily Californian. He graduated from Cal in 2010 and started at The Sacramento Bee as a summer intern. He joined The Bee’s sports staff in fall 2011.
Phone: (916) 321-1015.
On Twitter: @matthewkawahara.

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