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August 3, 2013
Small ball yields big results in 4-2 win; A's lead back to 3 1/2

OAKLAND -- Eric Sogard played it safe when asked for a family-friendly version of what Rangers starter Matt Garza yelled at him after Sogard's squeeze bunt gave the A's their insurance run in the seventh inning of Saturday's 4-2 win.

"I couldn't really make it out exactly," Sogard said. "He was just yelling at me going by. Part of the game."

The gist seemed to be Garza taking issue with the A's playing a conservative offensive style for much of the game, starting with back-to-back bunts by Coco Crisp and Sogard leading off the first inning. Crisp bunted for a hit, Sogard bunted him to second and Jed Lowrie followed with an RBI single. Yoenis Cespedes then homered to give the A's a three-run lead on Garza's first six pitches.

The A's have had trouble coming up with the big hit in recent games, including a 1-for-19 mark with runners in scoring position in their last two losses, and the bunts seemed to energize them in the first inning. Sogard said the plan going in was to make Garza field his position, as the A's noticed Garza "has some trouble throwing to first sometimes."

Garza made accurate throws on the bunts he fielded Saturday, but the strategy still proved effective, particularly in the seventh. After Alberto Callaspo reached on a leadoff walk, Stephen Vogt bunted him to second, Crisp singled to set up runners on the corners with one out, and Sogard dropped a bunt to the left of the mound that left Garza only one play -- to first base, with Callaspo scoring to give the A's a two-run lead.

TV cameras showed Garza apparently voicing his displeasure toward Sogard, who wrote it off after the game as "just kind of the heat of the moment."

"Obviously we scored the run, so he's not going to be happy anytime," Sogard said. "It happens. We're happy about it."

Including the squeeze play, the A's had three sacrifice bunts Saturday after coming into the game with 10 on the season. That didn't include Crisp's leadoff single in the first, and Vogt and Brandon Moss were among the unlikely players who also tried to bunt for hits.

"You're trying to get a guy out of rhythm a little early on," manager Bob Melvin said. "And then at the end we're just trying to add on a run. ... In games like that, adding on one run feels like more. So that was kind of the thinking."

A's starter Jarrod Parker indicated a game like Saturday could have ripple effects going forward, as: "It's going to keep teams on their toes. They know they have to defend the bunt." Saturday, at least, it allowed the A's more success against Garza, who held them to one run on four hits while pitching for the Cubs on July 3.

"There's some times that before the starting pitcher gets comfortable doing his thing, you have a chance to score some runs off him," Melvin said. "We played a little small ball early and Yoenis' hit was huge for us."

Vogt, who said he last bunted for a hit in High-A ball, pushed his base-hit attempt foul and chuckled when asked if he would have liked a chance to beat it out, Crisp-style.

"Yeah I wish I could've got it down," he said. "But it's all right.

"It was an interesting day, to say the least," Vogt added. "But you've got to do what you've got to do to win a game."

* The small ball likely doesn't hold up without Parker pitching out of trouble in several innings the way Tommy Milone, who was optioned to Triple-A before the game, couldn't on Friday night. Parker allowed eight baserunners in the first five innings but he recorded four of his six strikeouts with runners in scoring position to help prevent the big inning.

"You could tell at times he was battling himself," Melvin said. "With a rested bullpen I felt like it was very important that he got us through the sixth. He battled today without his best stuff, kept his composure and made pitches when he had to."

Parker said he was also battling the mound, especially in the middle innings when he had trouble finding a comfortable landing spot for his plant foot. Garza and A's reliever Ryan Cook also seemed to have issues with the mound, with Cook calling out a groundskeeper in the eighth inning.

Otherwise, Parker said he "felt good," though the Rangers made him work to complete his six innings on 107 pitches. He said he felt the first inning helped galvanize the team -- before the A's scored three times in the bottom of the inning, Parker pitched around a leadoff double by Leonys Martin, striking out Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre

"He was making pitches when he needed to, moving the ball in and out, up and down, and changing speeds really well," Vogt said. "Kept them off-balance all day, and they weren't able to get too many barrels off of him."

* Vogt said he had a "pretty good knot" on the top of his head after being hit in the sixth inning by Jurickson Profar's backswing. Vogt sank to his knees and was checked by an A's trainer before staying in the game. Two innings later, he took a foul ball off the face mask and was replaced in the top of the ninth by Derek Norris.

Vogt said that was "the hardest I've ever been hit by a bat on a backswing," but the foul tip in the eighth was the play that "kind of shook me a little bit."

"When I came in from catching that inning, I wasn't feeling great," Vogt said. "Nothing too serious or traumatic, just felt like something was off, and so as a precaution decided to come out of the game at that point."

Vogt said he had seen team doctors and was still going to undergo some tests, but that he doesn't think he has a concussion. Melvin expressed the same cautious optimism, with the A's already down one catcher to a concussion in John Jaso, who still has yet to resume baseball activities since going on the DL on July 25.

"Obviously my head hurts, but I've had a concussion before and I don't feel symptoms that are similar to that," Vogt said. "So far so good, but we just have to wait and see. ... Nothing too serious, I don't think."

* Parker allowed six hits, snapping his string of 11 consecutive starts in which he'd given up five or fewer hits while throwing at least three innings, which matched the longest such stretch by any pitcher in A's franchise history since at least 1916.

Then again, he also got the win after going six starts without a decision. And he remains unbeaten in his last 12 starts. So the guess here is he'll take it.

* Sogard extended his career-best hitting streak to 11 games -- and didn't bunt to do it. He lined a single into left field in the fifth inning and finished the day 1-for-2 with the two sacrifices -- after coming in with one sacrifice bunt all season.

* Crisp went 2-for-4, but the two hits arguably weren't as well-struck as the two outs. He hit a slicing line drive to left field in the second inning that hung up for David Murphy and drove a ball to the warning track in right-center in the fifth inning that Nelson Cruz ran down. After the latter, Crisp smiled toward the sky and appeared to let out a yell of exasperation.

Crisp is having a rough homestand -- he's now 6-for-36 in the nine games and entered Saturday batting .177 over the last 36 games. While the outs haven't all been like those, Melvin said Crisp seems to be making sharper contact in the past week.

"He's been hitting the ball on the screws two or three times a game and had nothing to show for it," Melvin said. "That's what's frustrating for him right now.

"I think he's swinging the bat way better than his numbers would indicate, and maybe better than a week or so ago. It looks to me like he's ready to get going."

* A productive Crisp would be big for an A's team that's still averaging just 3.4 runs in its last 21 games. We'll see if it carries over against left-hander Derek Holland in the series finale Sunday. Holland goes up against A's right-hander A.J. Griffin, for whom the challenge might well be keeping the Rangers in the park. Griffin has allowed 26 homers on the year, the highest total in baseball.

* One more thing -- the A's confirmed during the game they acquired reliever Fernando Nieve from the Cleveland Indians for cash considerations. Nieve was 5-3 with a 1.81 ERA at Triple-A Columbus this season, and joins the A's on a minor-league deal.

That's it for today, as the A's ensure they'll get out of Oakland tomorrow no worse than 2 ½ games ahead of the Rangers in the West -- though a 4 1/2 game lead no doubt sounds better. First pitch tomorrow at 1:05 p.m.

-- 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.
Email: mkawahara@sacbee.com.
Phone: (916) 321-1015.
On Twitter: @matthewkawahara.

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