Bay Area Baseball

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July 14, 2013
Donaldson, Colon, Balfour punctuate first halves in A's 3-2 win

OAKLAND -- The A's and manager Bob Melvin know there's no point in belaboring the argument that Josh Donaldson -- who is not headed to New York tonight with teammates Grant Balfour, Bartolo Colon and Yoenis Cespedes -- has had an All-Star-caliber half. Donaldson wasn't going to get voted in over Miguel Cabrera and his otherworldly first-half numbers, and a deep field at the position features some more established, better-known names. A.L. manager Jim Leyland acknowledged Donaldson's worthy first half while saying there just wasn't a spot for him on the roster.

Donaldson, who has been realistic about the situation throughout, used Sunday to make one last first-half statement, driving in all three runs in the A's 3-2 win over the Red Sox with a monster two-run home run in the seventh inning and the walk-off hit in the bottom of the 11th, a bloop single to right that scored Chris Young from second and earned him the now customary pie in the face from Josh Reddick.

Signs of the pie were still on Donaldson's face as he talked with reporters after the game, and he has a few days to savor it and its impact. With Sunday's win, the A's go into the All-Star Break with their most first-half wins (56) since 1973, and in sole possession of first place in the West (by two games over the Rangers) for the first time since 1990.

On an individual note, Donaldson, who a year ago at this time was trying to play his way back up from Triple-A, finishes the first half leading the A's in batting average (.310), RBIs (61), OPS (.901), and tied with Brandon Moss for the team lead in home runs (16).

"It's pretty apropos that not only did he knock in the winning run (Sunday), but knocked in all three runs," Melvin said. "Pretty good first half."

Melvin was asked once again about Donaldson not being an All-Star and said: "I think we're done being riled up about that." Donaldson was asked if he'll watch the game.

"Maybe," he said. "Depends on if I'm playing golf or not."

The A's trailed 2-0 and didn't have a hit against Boston rookie Brandon Workman going into the bottom of the seventh, when Coco Crisp led off beating an infield single. Two batters later, Donaldson got a full-count fastball from Workman and hit it off the green façade just below the luxury box windows in straightaway center field. Melvin said the distance was particularly impressive on an unusually still day at the Coliseum.

"That was pretty much all I've got right there," Donaldson said. "But he made a mistake over the plate and I was able to hit it hard."

In the 11th, Young and Derek Norris, pinch hitting for John Jaso with two outs, each drew walks off of reliever Matt Thornton to bring up Donaldson, who fought an inside pitch to right field. It dropped between Dustin Pedroia and Daniel Nava, whose throw home was far too late to get Young.

It was the sixth walk-off win for the A's and the second such hit by Donaldson, who has come up with a series of clutch hits in the first half. Melvin said Donaldson has "got that competitive bone."

"Those situations that are big, he's not scared of them," Melvin said. "He enjoys them, he looks forward to them, and that's really the telltale for me on who the true competitors are, is how they react to those situations.

"You can see there's added focus, there's desire, there's commitment to what he's doing. It's been pretty impressive to watch."

All-Star or not.

* After Bartolo Colon threw his first pitch Sunday, virtually ensuring he would not pitch in Tuesday's All-Star Game, the A's made the official announcement that Grant Balfour will replace Colon on the A.L. roster. It's the first All-Star selection for Balfour, who has been perfect in 25 save opportunities this season -- the only closer in baseball without a blown save -- and struck out the side in the ninth Sunday to preserve a 2-2 tie.

"Minus Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis, I don't know another guy who's more worthy," Donaldson said.

Balfour, who broke into the big leagues with the Twins in 2001, said he was "relieved" by the selection and called it a "great honor to be going." He said he "happened to have a bag ready just in case," which should come in handy, as the A's participants in the All-Star festivities -- including Colon, who will be there to watch -- are taking a late flight to New York tonight.

"It's one of those things that each and every year you'd love to be on the team, but it hasn't worked out that way over the years," Balfour said. "I feel like I've had some good years, but things have to go right and things have to go your way to get on there.

"It's just an honor now to be named to it, and I'm very happy to, I guess you could say, cross it off the list."

Colon, in all likelihood, was not going to get into the game even if he did make himself eligible. Leyland has made it clear he doesn't intend on using any pitcher Tuesday who started two days before. Colon said he is a little "disappointed" that he won't be taking part in the game, but said he was "so happy" to hear Balfour will be taking his place.

Balfour said that if he does get into the game he'll approach it with his usual intensity. "I'm not going to go out there and do cartwheels and do anything crazy," he said. "I'm going to go out and pitch how I pitch. ... I'll be going out there to win the game."

Balfour becomes the second Australian player after former Brewers catcher Dave Nilsson -- and the first pitcher -- to be named to the All-Star team. He said he'll have family at the game, though not his mother, who was in Oakland on Sunday but scheduled to fly back to Australia that night.

"She's going the other way," Balfour said. "It'd be nice to have her there, but that's the way it goes."

* Colon has now thrown at least six innings while allowing no more than three runs in 12 consecutive starts, a stretch in which he is 9-1 with a 1.79 ERA. He ends the first half 12-3 with a 2.70 ERA.

It has reached the point where Melvin was asked about Colon's outing and his response was a muted: "He pitched today pretty similar to how he has all year." That Colon left in line for the loss was due in large part to the A's not managing a hit through six innings, though the Red Sox -- who saw the most pitches in baseball in the first half -- did make him work more than normal.

Colon threw 107 pitches, one off his season high, in 6 1/3 innings, a big reason he wasn't still in the game when the A's finally did break through against Workman in the seventh.

It seems safe to say that outside of Donaldson (and, on maybe a less impactful note, Nate Freiman), Colon has been the biggest positive surprise for the A's in the first half. He's 40 years old and having his best season since 2005, when he won the Cy Young Award, for a rotation that has carried the A's since mid-May.

On May 16, the A's were 20-22 and 7 ½ games behind the Rangers in the division. Since then, they've gone 36-17 over a span of 53 games in which the starting rotation is 27-9 with a 2.99 ERA.

"This is one of the best first halves I've ever had," Colon said Sunday through interpreter Ariel Prieto. "Thank you, God, and I hope the second half, same thing."

* The A's might have had the toughest final week leading into the break of any team -- three games in Pittsburgh against the Pirates, who at the time had the National League's best record, and three against the majors-leading Red Sox. They went 4-2 and now head into the break tied with the Cardinals and Pirates for the second-most wins in baseball.

The pitching staff, which leads the league in ERA, is a big reason. Melvin before the game Sunday said he sees room for improvement in the second half on offense, where some key contributors from last season have struggled in comparison, and on defense, where the A's have had stretches of sloppiness during the first half.

Cespedes is hitting .225 (though with 15 homers and 43 RBIs), Josh Reddick is at .218 and four homers a year after hitting 32, and Chris Young and Derek Norris have had their share of struggles at the plate. But the A's more often than not have given just enough support to their starters and reliable back end of the bullpen, which shouldered a heavy workload in the first half and, Melvin admitted, will benefit a lot from the break.

"I think we're right where we want to be," shortstop Jed Lowrie said.

"I feel like we have some guys who probably aren't where they want to be at the All-Star Break, but they've been really productive and I think they're going to be big for us down the stretch. We've got a deep lineup and I think it'll be one of our strengths."

Offense powered the A's second-half run last year, when they were a .500 team at the break and went 51-25 in the second half. This year's A's are hitting fewer home runs, scoring fewer runs overall, but obviously carry a better record into the second half. Melvin was asked if this is a better team than 2012 -- and basically said it's too early to tell still.

"A lot of the same characters that were here last year are here this year, and I think we've taken a lot of confidence from last year into this year," he said. "And there's some guys that have stepped up not only performance-wise, but leadership-wise. So it feels like it's the same type of group, even though it's not completely the same type of team, but there is a lot of baseball yet to be played."

In other words, stay tuned. In New York, Cespedes will try to put on a power display tomorrow in the Home Run Derby, and Balfour stands a pretty good chance of getting into the actual game Tuesday. Otherwise, you'll next see the A's when they regroup in Anaheim on Friday for a three-game series against the Angels. Until then, thanks as always for reading and take a breath -- 95 games down (for the A's, anyway), but still plenty of baseball to go.

-- 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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