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Donaldson gives A's a lead with a grand slam

CHICAGO -- During their remarkable run to the playoffs last year, the A's waited until the final day of the regular season to grab sole possession of first place.

This year, they decided not to wait so long to get to the top.

That's where the A's stood at night's end Friday, following a 4-3 victory over the White Sox, their third straight win and 18th in last 21 tries to push them half a game over the Rangers in the American League West.

At this exact point in the 2012 season, the A's were nine games back. But they refused to stare at the standings then, and they're not doing it now, instead keeping their focus elsewhere.

"We're in first place?" outfielder Josh Reddick asked. "Well, I guess we don't really think about it. We just go out there and play. It's only June. As long as you're in first the last day of the year, that's all that matters."

The A's sure are playing like a first-place team, though they didn't get their first grand slam of the season until Friday.

It was worth the wait.

In fact, it's all they needed, and Josh Donaldson, naturally, was responsible.

The A's third baseman, easily the club's most consistent player this season, drove a 1-1 fastball from Chris Sale into the right-field stands with one out in the sixth inning, wiping away Chicago's 3-0 lead.

The game-winning knock, which followed hits from Adam Rosales and Jed Lowrie and a walk to Yoenis Cespedes, not only marked Oakland's first grand slam but the first of Donaldson's career.

"That's big-time stuff," manager Bob Melvin said. "We've scored five runs off [Sale] in two games, beat him twice, and Donaldson has knocked in all five runs. He keeps coming up with bigger and bigger hits. His approach is great, especially with runners in scoring position. Pretty impressive."

Just how good is he with runners in scoring position? Try a .376 mark, including 6-for-8 with the bases loaded. He also has 41 RBIs in 62 games, after totaling 33 in 75 games last season.

"I think it's just one of those situations where maybe I focus a little more," Donaldson said. "It was my third at-bat off Sale tonight and I was starting to feel pretty comfortable up there. I was just able to get a good pitch. Any time a guy has to come at me, I feel like I'm going to be successful."

Overall, Donaldson is hitting .329 on the season. Only four other AL players -- Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis, Jhonny Peralta and James Loney -- own a better clip, which further supports a growing campaign to get Donaldson to the All-Star Game despite overwhelmingly talented company at the hot corner.

Donaldson's heroic efforts on Friday were aided by a strong pitching performance from Jarrod Parker, who allowed the White Sox two earned runs (three total) on just five hits spanning seven-plus innings.

The righty offered up a one-out solo shot to Tyler Flowers in the third, and a Derek Norris throwing error led to Dayan Viciedo's sacrifice fly in the fourth. Another sac fly, this time off the bat of Alejandro De Aza, extended Chicago's lead in the fifth.

But Donaldson's grand slam set up Parker for his fifth win. He has a 2.43 ERA over his last six starts, after struggling to the tune of a 7.34 ERA in his first seven.

"For us just to hang around tonight was huge," Parker said. "Donaldson came up with a huge hit. All around, we're just staying with it and not checking out early or settling with what we have. We just keep going at it."

Sounds a lot like the game plan they utilized last year.

"We're never going to think we're out of the game, whether it's the second or ninth," Reddick said.

It was Reddick who saved the game in the ninth, after Ryan Cook retired three straight hitters in the eighth inning to strand two runners, by robbing Conor Gillaspie of a home run with one out and Grant Balfour on the mound.

"I honestly thought it was hit right to me," Reddick said. "I was playing no-doubles defense and if you look at the videoj I just froze for a second because I thought he got jammed, and I realized once it was about at its peak it was still going. Fortunately, I was playing deep and it was easier to get to."

"I've never seen anybody rob a home run so nonchalantly," Cook said. "He's kind of at the base of the fence. Next thing you know, he sticks his glove up. No big deal."

It helped Balfour capture his 33rd consecutive save dating back to last year and 15th of the season, and moved the A's atop the division.

No big deal.

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