OAKLAND -- With apologies to Bartolo Colon and his complete-game shutout Friday night at the age of 40, Sunday's pitching matchup between Jarrod Parker and Chris Sale may have offered the most intrigue of a series the A's wound up sweeping with a 2-0 win in the finale.
Both are 24 years old and coming off promising seasons in their first year as full-time starters (Parker was 13-8 for the A's as a rookie in 2012; Sale went 17-8 for the White Sox after spending a season and a half in the Chicago bullpen). Both are power pitchers whose teams clearly feel have front-of-the-rotation ability. Sunday likely won't be the last time they pitch against each other. And actually, it wasn't the first.
Parker made his A's debut last April against the White Sox -- and Sale. Neither figured into a 5-4 decision that went 14 innings. But Parker stoked expectations by allowing one run in 6 1/3 innings, while Sale pitched eight innings and gave up just two runs.
Sunday, Parker came in with a 5.40 ERA that has been dropping steadily since the end of April, while Sale entered on a 23-inning scoreless streak. It led A's manager Bob Melvin to predict before the game that runs would be at a premium, which turned out to be the case. The starters swapped zeroes until the sixth, when Sale blinked first. Parker pitched 6 1/3 scoreless innings, allowed two hits and two walks, struck out seven and got the win.
"It's fun," Parker said. "I didn't even know he had a scoreless streak until somebody mentioned it, but obviously we know coming into this game it's going to be a battle and we've got to try to scratch a few here and there. And we did a great job of just staying on it all day and not giving up."
The A's pushed across a run in the sixth when Coco Crisp walked, moved to third on Jed Lowrie's single and scored on Josh Donaldson's sacrifice fly. It was a determined at-bat by Donaldson, who fouled off two two-strike pitches and took a changeup out of the zone before hitting a 95 mph fastball the other way deep enough to score Crisp.
"It'd be one thing if he just pitched to the outer part of the plate against right-handers, but he just bullies you inside and opens up the outer part of the plate, whether it's a backdoor slider or a changeup or a sinker when he needs a ground ball," Melvin said of Sale. "He really creates room on the plate for himself based on the fact that he's not afraid to pitch inside to right-handers. He's awfully good."
Parker, meanwhile, allowed a single and a walk with one out in the first inning, but struck out Dayan Viciedo and Adam Dunn back-to-back to end the inning. He allowed just one more runner to reach second, on a two-out double by Dunn in the fourth.
"He takes the mound today knowing, 'I've got to be pretty good,' because there's not going to be many runs scored on the other side -- you could see the stuff that Sale had right away would suggest that," Melvin said.
"You try to stay with the guy and put a run on the board to keep them down, you get a chance to potentially win against the bullpen. But as good as Jarrod was, he matched up and pitched better than Sale."
Parker has now won back-to-back starts for the first time this season and has a 1.98 ERA over his last four starts. The right-hander said having his sinker working Sunday allowed him to pitch inside and keep hitters from stepping into his changeup and slider. Since finishing April with a 7.36 ERA, Parker attributed his improvement to "a combination of things -- feeling healthy and cleaning a few things up mechanically, and just attacking.
"It's just staying within myself, pitching to my strengths and following (catcher Derek Norris)," he said. "Derek's been great behind the dish. He does a lot of research and I've been able to just follow him, and he's done a great job."
* Crisp, back in the lineup after getting a day off Saturday, scored both the A's runs. After breaking the scoreless tie in the sixth, he singled with one out in the eighth and scored when Lowrie lined a single into center that John Danks bobbled. Crisp, running on the pitch, came all the way around from first to score.
"You're just a little bit more on edge on the other side when he's on base," Melvin said.
Though it looked like a designed play that worked to perfection -- Lowrie hit the ball just to the right of shortstop Alexei Ramirez and Ramirez moved to cover second base on the steal -- Lowrie said it wasn't a hit-and-run. He noticed Crisp in motion, but got a fastball he felt he could handle, he said.
Still, both A's rallies -- the eighth inning especially -- hinted at the potential of a Crisp-Lowrie 1-2 combination at the top of the lineup. Lowrie has bounced around the A's lineup so far but has said he considers himself a No. 2-type hitter and shown he can handle the bat. Melvin said he does like the pairing -- but Lowrie's versatility makes it tough to assign him to one spot in the order.
* After Parker left the game with one out in the seventh, Jerry Blevins retired Dunn as his lone assignment, Ryan Cook got the next four outs -- three on strikeouts -- and Grant Balfour made it 31 successful save opportunities in a row. There's a reason why the A's stress the importance of their starters keeping them in games. They're now 25-1 on the season when they lead after seven innings.
"The more they can go out there and throw those six, seven innings, we feel confident with that we've got down in the bullpen," Balfour said. "Today was a great example."
A reporter started to ask Balfour about his saves streak, which is the second-longest in franchise history, but he cut that short with a genial: "Don't talk to me about that."
* Norris had to be checked by trainers in the sixth inning after Ramirez's backswing caught him on the glove hand, but he stayed in the game. Norris said afterward the bat got him on his left pointer finger and he was about to go get ice for it.
"It was barking a little bit on him, but there was no way he was coming out of that game," Melvin said. "My guess is he'll be OK."
As for the series sweep, in which the A's pitchers combined to allow three runs in 28 innings and the starters gave up one run in 21 1/3, Norris said he would "sum it up to Oakland A's baseball.
"This is what we do well is we have a good starting rotation, scratch a couple runs across and close the door with our bullpen," he said. "That's what we strive for and we're doing a great job of it."
Now it's on to Milwaukee for three interleague games and then Chicago, where the A's will play four more against a White Sox team that is struggling offensively. When the A's get back, they host the New York Yankees in what, for a mid-June series, offers some tantalizing possibilities. Back on June 11.
-- Matt Kawahara