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August 31, 2013
Welcome back Kurt, plus Lowrie comes up clutch in A's 4-3 win

OAKLAND -- Kurt Suzuki said it hasn't taken him long to form an opinion of new teammate Jed Lowrie upon rejoining the A's via trade a week ago.

"That guy's clutch," Suzuki said.

Suzuki had the loudest blow in the A's 4-3 win over the Rays on Friday -- a three-run homer off David Price in his first game back at the Coliseum since the A's reacquired him. Lowrie had the game-winner, a softly hit double to right field in the bottom of the eighth after the Rays had tied the game with two runs in the top of the inning.

In a way, it was in keeping with Lowrie's contributions all year. As the A's were winning three out of four in Detroit, Lowrie went 8-for-17 with four doubles, a homer and four RBIs. But that was overshadowed by Brandon Moss' power explosion.

On the season, Lowrie is batting .293 with a team-leading 147 hits and 40 doubles to go with 10 homers and 58 RBIs. But he's probably not the most known or feared name in a lineup including Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes.

"He hasn't flown under the radar for us," manager Bob Melvin said. "He's gotten big hits for us and puts together really good at-bats a lot. Went through a little bit of a down period in the second half, but he's been terrific for us in that three-hole."

Lowrie's go-ahead double came on a 2-0 off-speed pitch from reliever Joel Peralta. It was Lowrie's 13th double in the month of August -- the most by an Oakland player in August and one shy of the team record for doubles in any month, which Jason Giambi owns with 14 in July 1996.

As his season totals suggest -- as does the way Melvin has bounced him around the lineup all season -- Lowrie isn't a huge power threat, and he acknowledged earlier this year that when he learned he'd be playing his home games at the Coliseum he backed off the idea of hitting a lot of home runs (which he was more prone to think about playing last year in Houston).

Still, Melvin has gravitated toward batting Lowrie third more lately, even opting to move Donaldson -- the A's top run producer in the first half -- to second against lefties as with Price on Friday.

"(Lowrie is) not going to hit a ton of homers, but he's going to get big hits, knock in big runs, and with JD in the two-hole now it seems like we're getting some more guys on in front of him," Melvin said. "He's able to really think clearly in big at-bats late in games and has a very good idea of how he's going to be pitched."

Lowrie, who's in the midst of a 12-game hitting streak, said he "hasn't changed a thing" with his swing or approach. He said he was only aware of the doubles mark because of a TV interview he'd done before talking to reporters after Friday's game.

Along with the game-winning hit, Lowrie may have made the game-saving defensive play in the ninth. With a runner on first and one out, David Dejesus hit a grounder to first baseman Daric Barton, who threw low and wide to Lowrie at second. Lowrie dug the ball out of the dirt for a force out and Grant Balfour then retired Ben Zobrist on a groundout for the final out.

"Sometimes you've got to make plays like that to win games," Lowrie said.

* Suzuki got a nice ovation from the crowd of 15,603 when he came up for his first at-bat against Price in the third inning. They erupted when he hit the first pitch from Price in the fifth for a three-run homer, his first as a member of the A's since last July 22, a week and a half before he was traded to Washington.

"You couldn't write that," said Friday's starter Jarrod Parker. "You couldn't make that stuff up."

Parker, who needed more than 40 pitches to get through the first two innings Friday but settled in to pitch into the eighth, gave much of the credit for that to Suzuki, with whom he's clearly very comfortable from their time working together last year.

"I was battling myself and trying to find something comfortable. You're not always going to feel good and right and today was one of those days," Parker said. "But Zuk's great at that stuff, just keeping it simple. He'll make you laugh, smile and he relaxes you, and that is what I kind of needed today."

Suzuki made multiple trips to the mound in the second inning, when Parker issued back-to-back one-out walks and a two-out RBI single to Yunel Escobar. He said he didn't give Parker any momentous advice but urged him to focus on getting out of the second and after that made a point of picking up their tempo.

"We worked pretty well together last year, and now we're just picking up where we left off," Suzuki said. "It was nothing big. Sometimes getting into a rhythm just takes a little bit."

Longer, anyway, than it seemed to take for Suzuki to be welcomed back to Oakland. The catcher said his reception Friday matched the memories he had of fans at the Coliseum. As for the homer, on which he pumped his fist rounding first base: "It was special."

"That felt really good," Suzuki said. "And for it to be off Price, one of the best pitchers in the game, that was really neat."

* Parker didn't get the win Friday after departing in the eighth with nobody out and two runners on, both of whom eventually scored. But he did record his 17th consecutive start without a loss -- tying the Oakland record for the longest unbeaten streak by a starting pitcher set by Catfish Hunter in 1973. Parker hasn't taken a loss since May 22, while the A's are 11-6 in those 17 starts.

"Pretty impressive," Melvin said. "I didn't know that and I'm sure he probably didn't know that too. Those are all things you kind of reflect on a little bit later."

Melvin was half right -- Parker said he knew about the distinction of tying Hunter.

"I mean, people have been saying it and it is what it is," Parker said. "But it's something that I'm not thinking about. It's really not in my mind, to be honest."

Parker said he was "out there probably not with my best stuff today," but felt a little more relaxed after the second inning. When Parker is on, his fastball often carries some sinking movement, resulting in ground-ball outs. That was the case in the middle innings Friday, as at one point he retired 10 of 11 hitters on either ground balls (eight) or strikeouts (two).

* Although the A's gave back a late lead for the second game in a row, this one actually had to be encouraging for the bullpen. Ryan Cook struck out both Desmond Jennings and Kelly Johnson with runners on second and third in the eighth to preserve the tie. Grant Balfour saved the game after issuing Torii Hunter's walk-off homer in Detroit the day before.

Balfour seemed particularly demonstrative stalking around the mound after striking out Jose Molina to start the inning. He did walk Escobar with one out, helping make things interesting again, but recorded his 34th save, which Melvin said was probably important for Balfour, even though he doesn't lack for confidence.

"The stuff was really good tonight," Melvin said. "Admittedly didn't have his best stuff yesterday, but he was on today. The velocity was up, you could see the intensity, he was throwing the ball where he wanted to -- all the stuff he does well when he's shutting it down."

Cook, meanwhile, allowed both inherited runners to score, but had some bad luck with Evan Longoria blooping a single into right field to load the bases. He was unable to put away James Loney in a 10-pitch at-bat before Loney's double tied the game.

When Cook came in to face Longoria with two on and nobody out, there was nobody warming up behind him in the A's bullpen, despite two left-handers following Longoria in the Rays lineup. Melvin was asked about that and explained it this way:

"They had some lefties, but Longoria's the first guy. And they do match up -- they're the only team in the American League that has more pinch-hit appearances than we do.

"(Wil) Myers hasn't been swinging good, but he gets your attention sitting over there on the bench if you do bring a left-hander in, and they're not afraid to mix and match. Cook was our most rested guy and he was throwing where he had good velocity.

"Loney put together a good at-bat. Other than that, I thought (Cook) held his cool pretty well and got us out of the inning where we still had a chance to go ahead."

* This seems one of those "of course" stats, but the A's are now 48-6 this season when they out-homer their opponent. It's the best record in the majors.

On Friday, it helped them pick up a full game on the Rangers (who lost to Minnesota) and leap-frog the Rays in the wild-card standings, which they now lead by a half-game. Good start to a 10-game homestand, which continues Saturday evening with the Rays' Alex Cobb (8-2, 2.87) opposing rookie Sonny Gray (1-2, 3.18).

First pitch at 6:05 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.
Phone: (916) 321-1015.
On Twitter: @matthewkawahara.

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