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September 2, 2013
Crisp stays power-hungry as A's win 4-2, pull even in A.L. West

OAKLAND -- Coco Crisp was sitting on 10 home runs in mid-August when he missed nearly a week dealing with a sore right wrist. Since returning to the A's lineup on a regular basis Aug. 19, he has hit seven in 13 games, including his career-high 17th that ended up being the difference in the A's 4-2 win over the Rangers on Monday.

Crisp has actually hit the seven home runs in his last 12 games, and has homered in three straight for the third time this season. It's a pretty impressive power display from a player who has only reached double-digit home runs four times in his 12 major-league seasons.

"If you ever watch him take BP there are times he tries to hit homers, and he can do it," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He's short to the ball, long through, which creates back-spin. Maybe it's a little out of character for what his career would suggest, but where he is right now in his career, he's gotten better about it."

Melvin said before the game the A's are playing their best baseball of the second half, and it's likely not a coincidence it's coming at the same time as Crisp's offensive surge. Melvin has often referred to Crisp as the "igniter" of the A's offense, Crisp is batting .327 with 14 runs scored and nine RBIs over his last 13 games.

The A's, meanwhile, have won 8 of 10, all against legitimate postseason contenders, and pulled into a first-place tie with the Rangers on Monday for the first time since Aug. 9.

"It's exciting," reliever Brett Anderson said. "He's the table-setter, and he eats the food too. He's done it all."

Crisp had to leave Monday's game in the sixth after fouling a ball off his right leg. The A's said Crisp has a right shin contusion, and Melvin said the A's will "see how he is tomorrow" before determining if he'll play. Crisp declined to talk specifics about the injury afterward but when asked how he's feeling answered: "Fine."

He was slightly more expansive on the two-run homer in the fifth, which broke a 2-2 tie after Michael Choice, making his major-league debut, reached on a throwing error by Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre. The ball stayed fair by inches down the left-field line -- appearing on TV replays to actually hit the foul pole -- and was reviewed by umpires, who upheld the on-field call of a homer.

"I didn't think it was going to stay fair," Crisp said. "Usually the balls we've been hitting down the line, (Chris Young has) hit a couple that I thought were going to stay fair and ended up curving into foul territory, and I thought mine was going to do the same. Just happy it stayed fair."

As for the power surge, Crisp seemed to balk at the idea that it's entirely out of character. "I said I can hit home runs," he said. "I'm not a home-run hitter. I think a home-run hitter is a guy like (Jose) Bautista, obviously (Miguel) Cabrera and those type of guys. I can hit some home runs, and I'm OK with that."

* Choice didn't get a hit in his debut -- but did draw a walk in his first plate appearance against Rangers left-hander Derek Holland.

"For the A's that's like starting out with a homer," Melvin said.

Choice then hit a grounder to Beltre in his second at-bat that looked like a routine play, but Beltre's throw was off-line. That allowed Crisp to hit with a runner on and make it a two-run game just after the Rangers had tied it 2-2 in the top of the fifth on a home run from David Murphy.

"Obviously (Beltre is) an All-Star third baseman and he doesn't make throwing errors at all," Crisp said. "So maybe because (Choice) was hustling down there it kind of shocked him. With his size, he has some good speed. That was big for us."

Choice said his debut was "great," particularly coming with his family in the stands and against the team he rooted for growing up in Arlington. Melvin said before the game that Choice, upon finding out he'd be starting Monday, "seemed to be taking it in stride," and his first at-bat showed he wasn't getting too caught up in the moment. He took the first three pitches from Holland, all for balls, and walked on a high full-count fastball.

"I was a little antsy," Choice said. "Nerves were running through. But once I got up there it felt like any other game and I just tried to be patient and see if I could get something in the zone."

Melvin said that if Crisp can't play Tuesday, a likely option would be Young starting in center field and Choice playing one of the corner outfield spots with Texas starting a lefty in Martin Perez. Melvin made it clear earlier that the promotion for Choice isn't just a reward for a strong season in the minors -- the A's think he can help down the stretch.

"It's huge," Choice said. "To come up in a time when we're trying to win games to go to the playoffs, it's definitely a bigger test to see what you can do in a pressure situation."

* Anderson made his second appearance out of the bullpen since returning from a stress fracture in his foot and faced five hitters without allowing a run. He issued a one-out hit in the seventh before getting an inning-ending double play, and started the eighth with a walk to Beltre before striking out A.J. Pierzynski and turning the ball over to Ryan Cook.

After the game, Melvin made it sound as though the A's are OK with leaving Anderson in the bullpen right now. "We're doing OK in the rotation right now," he said. "It gives us another piece in the bullpen, where certain guys are a little worn out at this time of year."

That may explain why you didn't see Sean Doolittle warming up in the late innings, in spite of the close score and the Rangers' lineup featuring six left-handed or switch-hitters. Jerry Blevins did get up multiple times but wasn't called on to enter the game.

Anderson said he's getting more used to the reliever's routine, which is less predictable than that of a starter. Monday, for example, he warmed up during the bottom of the sixth, which was prolonged by Kurt Suzuki's one-out single and a short delay after Crisp fouled the ball off his shin.

Anderson said he "had to temper myself a little," because he normally warms up at a quick tempo anyway and didn't want to throw too many pitches in the bullpen. "But it worked," he said. "Felt good."

As for remaining in the bullpen, Anderson maintained that he's open to "whatever role they need me in. ... Going forward I feel like I could be a long guy or pretty much fill any role. I've kind of done it all now."

* Grant Balfour made it interesting again in the ninth, walking Murphy and allowing a single to Leonys Martin to start the inning. But he retired the next three hitters, including Kinsler and Beltre -- who was red-hot in August, batting .381 -- both with the tying run on second.

Balfour has allowed two or more runners now in four of his last five outings. Still, only once has he failed to record the save. He now has 36 on the season in 38 chances.

Melvin acknowledged that Balfour is "going through a period where maybe he doesn't have his best stuff. But he's your guy at the end of the game, he's only blown two saves this year. Until that changes he's our closer and we feel good when he takes the mound."

More on Balfour in tomorrow's print story from Ailene Voisin, but Melvin made it clear his support of Balfour in the closer role is unwavering.

* Dan Straily got the win to improve to 8-7 despite it not being his most efficient outing. Straily needed 91 pitches to complete five innings, but held the Rangers scoreless until the fifth, when Murphy hit a 2-2 pitch well over the wall in dead center field.

It was the only hit Straily allowed to a left-handed batter despite the lefty-heavy Rangers lineup. Straily said he was able to pitch inside against the lefties with his fastball, which helped set up the rest of his pitches.

* Yoenis Cespedes hit his 21st home run of the year in the second inning. It has been an inconsistent season for Cespedes at the plate, but the power clearly hasn't diminished.

"We'd certainly like to see more of that," Melvin said. "He's a guy we revolve around in the lineup and now he's got 20-plus which, in a bad year, that's not awful.

"He's been swinging it better lately, and we're always encouraged he's going to get on a roll."

* Here it is Sept. 2, and it's a dead heat atop the West. Crisp said he noticed a little more fire from both teams in key situations during the game, and: "It's kind of a back-and-forth that pumps your blood a little bit." Welcome to the home stretch. It's Martin Perez (8-3, 3.58) vs. Bartolo Colon (14-5, 2.94) in tomorrow's 7:05 p.m. start.

-- 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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