OAKLAND -- The Rangers began Wednesday having not allowed more than five runs in a game since July 30 -- a span of 31 games that was the longest by an American League team since baseball introduced the designated hitter in 1973. They had their ace going in Yu Darvish, who came in with a 2.73 ERA and a majors-leading 236 strikeouts. Those aren't normally the ingredients for an offensive outburst like that of the A's in their 11-4 win over the Rangers that evened things -- again -- atop the A.L. West.
Maybe it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, though. The A's offense has done some of its best work lately against some of the best pitchers in the league. In Detroit, they beat Justin Verlander and came within a blown save of handing Max Scherzer just his second loss all year. They returned home the next day and beat Tampa Bay ace David Price. Wednesday, they beat Darvish for the third time this year in three chances.
The A's just seem to give Darvish trouble. Since beating the A's the first time he faced them as a rookie last year, he hasn't won in their last five meetings, and his career ERA against Oakland is 4.85 after he allowed a season-high-tying five runs in five innings on Wednesday.
"I think he brings out the best in us because he's their No. 1," said third baseman Josh Donaldson. "I haven't really done much against him except for one single, but it's a team game and up and down the lineup I think guys had pretty good at-bats today."
They certainly made Darvish work, after it became apparent early on that his command wasn't at its best. Darvish threw 100 pitches but only 52 strikes. His six walks tied a career high, and he was visibly frustrated at times, including a mound visit from catcher A.J. Pierzynski in the second inning when the two appeared to be barking at each other.
Darvish walked four in the first two innings and two scored, including Jed Lowrie on Brandon Moss' two-out homer in the first. After that, manager Bob Melvin said the A's, who normally work counts anyway, did put more of an emphasis on grinding out at-bats.
"It's always a fine line, a catch-22 with a guy like that -- do you want to try to jump on the first fastball you get? Because he does have good stuff," Melvin said. "But it did look early on like he was having trouble throwing strikes, he was actually throwing more balls than strikes, so therefore you try to get the pitch counts up."
Largely as a result of the walks, Darvish was at 100 pitches when he exited after allowing Daric Barton's two-run homer with no outs in the sixth, which put the A's up 5-2.
Several players were asked if it seems like the A's have Darvish's number and, to a man, they downplayed that idea. Coco Crisp said their success against him could be, "Luck of the draw maybe, I don't know." Moss, who is now 4-for-12 against Darvish lifetime with three home runs, said: "That's pretty tough to say. We beat him but today really was the only time we've scored more than four runs against him."
One thing about the way Darvish pitches, Moss said, is that he "can kind of lull you into take mode" with his assortment of pitches and regular use of breaking balls. As a result, Darvish can make mistakes like any pitcher, but if you're not ready to take advantage of it he can get away with it.
"You've got to be aggressive when he makes mistakes," Moss said.
Right now, timely aggressiveness doesn't appear to be a problem for the A's hitters. And both Moss and Melvin said they believes part of that has to do with the pitchers against whom the A's have done well recently.
"I remember looking at my board and seeing the starting pitchers we were facing for a while, and it looked kind of ominous," Melvin said. "Therefore you just want to back it up and worry about that guy you have to face that day. But there are some pretty good names that we're getting good swings off of."
Rangers rookie left-hander Martin Perez, who has won his last six starts, held the A's at bay on Tuesday night. But they came back hours later and took advantage of Darvish at his least effective early on. As a result, they won the series and things are all tied up at the top of the division.
"That's the thing is the pitchers we've been doing it against," Moss said. "I think that was the big question for us is, can we beat the Darvishes, can we beat the Verlanders, can we beat the Scherzers?
"What we've done over the past couple weeks. I think it's done a lot for all our confidence. We don't look timid. We're swinging with conviction."
* It's coming at a good time, with the question now being whether the A's can keep it up playing a team against whom they arguably should.
The A's and Rangers meet again in Texas on Sept. 13 for three games. Before that, the A's play seven games against the Houston Astros, owners of baseball's worst record, and the Minnesota Twins, who are well below .500. The Rangers have a pair of three-game series against the Angels and the Pirates, who lead the tightly contested N.L. Central.
Houston, at 46-93, also has the highest ERA in baseball at 4.86 -- more than a half-run higher than the next-highest as of Wednesday morning, which belonged to the Angels.
"The last couple times we played them it's been a dogfight," Donaldson said. "We're going to have a tough task at hand coming up. We've just got to stay in the moment."
"I think anything on paper is what it is," said right-hander Jarrod Parker. "I don't think we're going to take anything for granted. We have to take care of the game at hand and the task at hand."
The A's, clearly, said all the right things Wednesday when it came to not looking ahead and so forth. But teams also talk about beating the teams you're supposed to beat, and with the way the scheduling shakes out over the next week, this certainly looks like a prime opportunity for the A's to make a move.
* Parker was the clear winner in what looked -- going in, anyway -- like the marquee pitching matchup of the weekend. He allowed two runs in six innings and still has not lost a decision since May 22, a span of 18 starts.
"He could've gone further," Melvin said. "When we scored the runs I just wanted to give him a break."
Parker's unbeaten streak is now the longest by a starter in the Oakland era, one more than Catfish Hunter recorded in 1973.
"It's cool," he said. "I don't think I'll really sit down and look at it 'til the end of the year. But for me to be in the same sentence (as Hunter and Lefty Grove, who set the franchise record with 21 consecutive starts in 1931) is an honor."
Regarding the matchup between himself and Darvish, Parker said he doesn't pay much attention to the pitcher on the other side, concerning himself more with opposing hitters. His last three starts, though, have all come against front-end starters in the Orioles' Chris Tillman, Price and now Darvish, and the A's have won all three, including the first two by one run.
Since finishing April 1-4 with a 7.36 ERA, Parker is 10-2, and even before Wednesday's start he had the sixth-lowest ERA in baseball (2.57) since May 17 among pitchers with at least 99 innings.
"I was more surprised by the first month," Moss said. "I've faced him in spring training, I've seen his stuff, and like he's pitching now, that's the only way I've seen him pitch besides that first month.
"He was unquestionably our ace last year. Bartolo's been great and he's our ace this year as well, but Parker just goes out and shuts teams down."
Just as telling -- Brett Anderson, the A's opening day starter, was asked about Parker's outing and said: "It's always fun to see ace go on ace." High praise for a 24-year-old, but the confidence the A's have in him right now is clear.
* Barton went 2-for-3 and is now 8-for-25 with six RBIs in nine games since being recalled from Triple-A on Aug. 26. Bee columnist Marcos Breton will have more in tomorrow's paper on Barton, who has been through a rocky past few seasons since he was heralded as the A's first baseman of the future. For now, here's Melvin on Barton hitting his first homer at the Coliseum since July 2010:
"That was big for him. He certainly has a much bigger appreciation for what he's doing now and the opportunity that he's gotten again. He went down and played all year with a lot of focus for a guy that could get down.
"He did everything they asked of him and really had a good year, so he played his way into the opportunities to get back here. And certainly since he's been here he's swung the bat well and played good defense."
* Another day, another home run for Coco Crisp, who now has eight in his last 14 games. His ongoing career-high total is now at 18. He has hit the last two right-handed -- the side that was bothered more by the sore wrist that kept him out for a week in mid-August.
"I still have to stay on top of it, get treatment, but as of right now I'm feeling healthy," Crisp said.
Along with Barton and Donaldson's three-run shot in the sixth, Moss hit his 26th homer of the season Wednesday. It was Moss who was named A.L. Player of the Week for the week ending last Sunday, with his power surge in Detroit playing a big part. But he had this to say about Crisp:
"I've had a good week, two weeks. He's in there day in, day out. What he's done over the last month, it's probably the main reason we are where we are."
* It'll look odd next to the final score, but Brett Anderson was credited with his second save after pitching the last three innings Wednesday. Anderson allowed hits to the first three batters he faced, including an RBI single by pinch-hitter Joey Butler, but got out of that inning with just the one run and pitched a 1-2-3 eighth. Geovany Soto homered to lead off the ninth before Anderson retired the next three to end the game.
Anderson was pitching on one day's rest, an oddity for a pitcher who's used to starting but part of the role change he's having to go through in the bullpen.
"Each and every outing for him is a little bit of a test," Melvin said. "I don't think his numbers are really indicative of what his stuff has been and the transition he's had to do, not only physically, but mentally."
Anderson acknowledged he has "probably got to do a better job of getting myself up for a game like that," where he's entering when the A's have a seven-run lead. But he didn't sound discouraged at all by the outing, saying he could still see himself contributing in a relief role down the stretch if that's what the A's want.
* One more brief note -- Jemile Weeks pinch-hit in the eighth inning and was met with a loud ovation from the crowd of 18,886 at the Coliseum. Weeks, the A's everyday second baseman for most of last season, had played all of this year at Triple-A before coming up with the September call-ups. He struck out in the at-bat, but said he noticed the reception.
"I think that was all genuine," Weeks said. "I really appreciated the fans when I was here and now that I'm back I still do."
* The A's turn their attention now to the Astros, whom they'll play for the last time this season. Here are the pitching matchups:
Thursday: RHP Brad Peacock (3-5, 5.98) vs. RHP Sonny Gray (2-2, 2.57)
Friday: LHP Dallas Keuchel (5-8, 4.77) vs. RHP A.J. Griffin (12-9, 3.84)
Saturday: LHP Brett Oberholtzer (4-1, 2.79) vs. RHP Dan Straily (8-7, 4.38)
Sunday: RHP Paul Clemens (4-4, 5.91) vs. RHP Bartolo Colon (14-6, 2.90)
We'll see where these teams stand when they meet again Sept. 13.
-- Matt Kawahara