OAKLAND -- As if to underscore the flipping of the calendar to September on Sunday, the video monitors at the Coliseum cut after the seventh inning to a highlight of the final out in the Minnesota Twins' 4-2 win over the Texas Rangers, with a caption under the score reading: "A.L. West deficit 1.5 games."
It's now a one-game deficit for the A's after they completed a three-game sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays with a 5-1 win on Sunday. While manager Bob Melvin has talked a few times over the past few weeks about games and series having a feel of added importance, actually seeing "September" in front of the date drives that home.
Melvin acknowledged as much Sunday, saying that while he still tries "not to get caught up" in scoreboard-watching at this point, he does pay attention when the numbers change by the TEX symbol on the out-of-town scoreboard.
"You can't help it. Everybody is," Melvin said. "Once it gets into September it feels like the finish line is in sight."
The good news for the A's is that it appears after an inconsistent August that they have hit some kind of stride in the past week. They're 7-3 in their last three series against the Orioles, Tigers and Rays -- all legitimate playoff contenders -- and held Tampa Bay to five runs this weekend in their first three-game sweep since June 11-13.
The A's scored 11 runs themselves, so it wasn't nearly the offensive showing they had in Detroit (34 runs in four games). But they responded as well as possible from letting their shot at a four-game sweep of the Tigers get away in the ninth inning of the final game.
"Momentum's funny in baseball, it's different day-to-day, but I think the fact that we kept it going from Detroit was the bigger thing for us," catcher Stephen Vogt said. "We came out of Detroit playing good baseball and lost a tough one the last day, but kept it rolling and kept playing the way we were coming home. It was huge to keep that rolling."
Now the A's welcome the Rangers in for three games starting Monday. By Wednesday, they could be two games up in the West, four games back or somewhere in between. A lot of times you'll hear players and managers temper their responses to questions about the importance of a regular-season series by saying it's just one series, or that there are lots of games left to play, but there was relatively little of that in the A's clubhouse on Sunday.
"This is what we look forward to," third baseman Josh Donaldson said. "We've got a chance right now to control our own destiny, and hopefully get to where we want to be. Obviously that's to win the division."
Asked if the Texas series will have the feel of a playoff-type series, Melvin said: "I think it did in Baltimore, it felt that way. It certainly did in Detroit, (the Rays) series again. But Texas probably brings it to another level.
"Based on the rivalry we have going with them from last year, they're a game up on us right now, that's the one that probably piques more people's interest and certainly gets our attention as well as their attention."
We'll see what kind of response it draws in terms of fans in seats at the Coliseum. The opener should be well-attended on the Labor Day holiday. Sunday's was announced as a crowd of 18,639 -- a little more than half-full -- but those who were there cheered loudly when the Rangers score was announced and began a chant of "Sweep" with two outs in the ninth inning.
"We've had a playoff atmosphere here the last couple days and it's not going to be any less the next few nights," Vogt said. "It's going to be a fun series to watch."
* That said, let's get the pitching matchups out there right away:
Monday: LHP Derek Holland (9-6, 3.00) vs. RHP Dan Straily (7-7, 4.41)
Tuesday: LHP Martin Perez (8-3, 3.58) vs. RHP Bartolo Colon (14-5, 2.94)
Wednesday: RHP Yu Darvish (12-6, 2.73) vs. RHP Jarrod Parker (10-6, 3.59)
* All three starters for the A's had strong outings against Tampa Bay, finishing with A.J. Griffin's seven innings Sunday. Griffin allowed one run on James Loney's second-inning home run and struck out seven for his 12th win.
Griffin had allowed four runs in each of his past two starts and said Sunday he may have been "almost feeling too good lately, trying to become a pitcher that I'm not, like a power pitcher." He said he and pitching coach Curt Young talked before this start about a few mechanical adjustments, "keeping my head on line more."
"That helped tremendously today," Griffin said. "I felt like I could execute my pitches and get the ball where I needed it more."
Griffin also credited the A's defense with saving two runs -- Daric Barton's diving stop to take away a hit from Ben Zobrist with a runner on second in the sixth and the nicely executed relay to cut down Wil Myers trying to score from second on Desmond Jennings' single in the seventh.
On the latter, Yoenis Cespedes' throw from left field was slightly off-line. But Myers had not even reached third base by the time he fielded the ball, and Donaldson had time to cut the throw off and make a short relay to Vogt, who tagged Myers out on a second effort.
"I think (Cespedes') throw may have gotten to me, but it would have been right on time with Myers," Vogt said. "The fact that JD was quick-thinking on his feet, I don't know if he's going to get enough credit for that play."
Donaldson said he noticed Myers' positioning at the time Cespedes fielded the ball and figured "if the throw was off-line that I still had a chance to get him. The throw was off by about five feet and that was it."
Replays appeared to show that Vogt tagged Myers on his first effort, but Vogt said he didn't hear anything from home plate umpire Tony Randazzo and so dove back toward Myers for a second tag.
"I knew he was nowhere near the plate," Vogt said, "so I knew I had time to go back and get him."
* Vogt had a good series against his former team, catching 17 innings in which the A's allowed two runs, hitting his first career triple on Saturday and adding a solo homer in the seventh Sunday that put the A's up 3-1.
The home run came on a 95 mph fastball from left-hander Jake McGee, and Vogt got his hands through quickly enough to hit it just over the out-of-town scoreboard in right field. He rounded the bases quickly, Adam Rosales-style.
"I don't hit enough home runs to take my time going around the bases," Vogt said. "I think there was a little extra juice flowing on the one today, though."
Vogt has seemed to win the confidence of both his manager and the A's pitchers in a relatively short amount of time since being called up from Triple-A and it appears he'll be playing regularly down the stretch with John Jaso inching his way back from the concussion he suffered in late July. That's not how the A's drew it up before the season, but Vogt has lessened the impact of the loss.
"For a guy that has not played much in the big leagues to be in this type of position right now, playing against his former team like that, he's got to feel pretty good," Melvin said.
* Josh Reddick received a cortisone shot for his sprained right wrist last week and joked Sunday: "Hopefully they put in mine what they put in Coco's so I can come back doing what he's doing."
Crisp didn't start from Aug. 12-18 after hurting his wrist on a dive in the outfield. Since Aug. 19, he has played in 12 games and gone 16-for-48, scored 13 runs, driven in eight and hit six home runs. He led off Sunday's game by hitting a 1-1 curveball from Jamey Wright for his 16th homer of the season, which tied his career-high. It was also the fifth time Crisp has led off a game for the A's this season with a home run.
"All of a sudden momentum's in our dugout right away," Melvin said. With the Rays using Wright as a spot-starter and likely to go often to their bullpen -- which they did, using seven pitchers -- "We knew they were going to match up the whole game and do the best they could to make it difficult ... and to get off to an early lead like that was huge."
We mentioned this number last night but it bears repeating: The A's are 40-10 this season when Crisp scores a run and 29-8 when he drives one in. He took care of both on one swing Sunday.
* Barton has gained a reputation during his time with the A's organization for drawing a lot of walks and working counts. So there was some mock surprise around the press box Sunday when he came up in his first at-bat in the second inning and hit the first pitch he saw from Wright for a single.
Barton then singled again on the first pitch in the eighth, driving in the A's fourth run. Melvin said it's part of a conscious effort by Barton to be more aggressive at the plate.
"That's something that even in the minor leagues he's been more aware of is to swing the bat and not try to work the count all the time," Melvin said. "He's still very good at that, it's just part of his DNA, but you see him getting some early-count swings."
* With Grant Balfour having worked the past three days, Melvin got Ryan Cook up in the eighth inning in what was then a save situation. That didn't end up being the case as the A's made it a four-run game, but with Grant Balfour having worked the past three days, Melvin wanted to stay away from his closer. Balfour should be available Monday.
* A couple off-the-field notes: The A's held their annual Breast Cancer Awareness Day on Sunday and announced during the game the event raised $61,395 -- through sales of ticket packages, pins, hats, pink jerseys and a team-autographed quilt raffle, along with donations from fans and sponsors.
Proceeds from the event go to the American Cancer Society and Cancer Prevention Institute of California. According to an A's release, the team and its partners have raised more than $1.3 million since the inaugural Awareness Day in 1999.
Also, before the game, the A's were collecting player signatures on a jersey that featured the name "Lane" and the No. 7. A team PR staff member said the jersey would be sent to the family of Chris Lane, the Australian-born pitcher reportedly shot to death last month in Oklahoma.
The spokesman said the A's also signed a ball to be auctioned off to benefit the family and that closer Grant Balfour, who is from Australia, signed a ball to send to Lane's girlfriend, whom Lane was reportedly visiting at the time of his death.
* It's another 1:05 p.m. first pitch Monday for the series opener between the A's and Rangers. Back at the yard then ...
-- Matt Kawahara