By Jason Wojciechowski on May 25, 2004 at 2:39 PM
I went out of town this past weekend, up to see friends graduate at Hampshire, so I missed a nice A's sweep of the Royals that helped push them into a tie for second with Texas, three games back of the Angels, who lost last night to Toronto in 10 innings.
It was a good thing to take all three games against Kansas City because the A's now head into a three game series in Boston, and while I guess they'll miss Pedro Martinez, they have to face Curt Schilling in the opener tonight. Tim Hudson's going for Oakland, though, so it ought to be a great pitching matchup.
Mark Mulder started things off with a complete-game, three-hit, no-walk (though he hit three batters) shutout on Friday, leading Oakland to a seven-run win. Mulder struck out six, lowered his ERA to 2.98, and threw just 108 pitches, a typical night for him, really. It was Mulder's third consecutive complete game, after he led the league with nine last year despite missing the last month of the season with his hip problem. Doing all of this while not even coming close to being overworked is a testament to his overall ability as a pitcher, and especially his attitude: just get guys out on ground balls, get them to swing early in the count, don't walk anyone, and everything will work out.
Bobby Crosby, who the game recap says lives with Mulder, hit a pair of home runs to support his buddy, giving him seven on the season, two more than Miguel Tejada. Don't be fooled, though: Crosby's power has been nice so far, but his batting average and on-base percentage are pitiful enough that Tejada is far outstripping him in offensive value, which is, of course, no surprise at this early stage in Crosby's career. The early power has to be encouraging, though, especially since the common wisdom was that Crosby would flash nice on-base ability while waiting for his major league power to come around in a few years. Instead, it looks like we're seeing the reverse.
Barry Zito had another shaky outing (four runs in seven innings), but the A's came from behind as Eric Chavez's two-out, ninth inning homer off of new closer Jeremy Affeldt tied the game, allowing Bobby Crosby to hit an RBI infield single to win it in the 11th. Highly regarded prospect Zack Greinke got his first major league start for the Royals, pitching five innings and giving up two runs (on a homer to Erubiel Durazo), which is not a bad debut. He was handled conservatively, which you like to see, being pulled after just 84 pitches. The Royals had the lead at that point, but Affeldt blew his teammate's chance at his first major league win.
The bullpen continued its fine work after that disastrous week and a half or so earlier in the season, getting four shutout innings from Chad Bradford, Arthur Rhodes, and Justin Duchscherer, who earned his second win of the year by pitching the top of the eleventh. Duke continues to prove Billy Beane right in choosing him over Chad Harville for the last spot in the A's bullpen. He could take a Ramiro Mendoza-with-the-Yankees-type role for the A's, pitching setup sometimes, long relief other times, and generally helping the team be secure knowing that they have a spot starter available all the time.
The series finale was a pitchers' duel, with the A's getting two runs in the second, Kansas City rallying to tie the game with single runs in the fourth, and fifth, and no scoring thereafter, until Eric Byrnes came through (again! Who needs Matt Stairs?) in the tenth to finish the sweep.
Rich Harden pitched a good game, giving up two runs in six innings, with just one walk. That low walk total, especially paired with his six strikeouts, is the best sign of something going right. He did give up eight hits, including two doubles and a homer, but he still managed to keep the Royals mostly off the scoreboard, so you can say he did his job.
The bullpen again pitched well, giving up just two hits in four innings, with Arthur Rhodes finishing things with a shutout inning in the top of the 10th to take the win, his first as an Athletic.
After the debacle in New York, I can only hope this Boston series goes better. The A's are on a roll, having won five straight, and the last thing they need is for things to fall apart in Beantown. They've got their top three starters going, but that was true in New York, too. Clearly, I'm a worrier. The Wednesday game is on ESPN2, but I'll be out: we're seeing the Mets at Shea that night, so I'll have to track the game on the out-of-town scoreboard, assuming they have one.