A's ride five-run fifth to Fenway victory
Blanton delivers strong seven-inning outing against Red Sox
BOSTON -- They didn't have Nick Swisher for the first half of the game, they didn't have Frank Thomas for the second half and they didn't have Eric Chavez or Milton Bradley at all.
But the A's did have Joe Blanton, they did have Mark Kotsay and they did have their best defensive game of the year.
And what they had was more than enough for the A's to pull off an 8-1 victory over the host Red Sox and walk out of Fenway Park having won three times in the four-game series.
"[That was a] pretty awesome start to the second half of the season," Oakland manager Ken Macha said. "I'm extremely pleased with the way these guys played. Their intensity level was out of this world."
That intensity was particularly evident on defense. Blanton was sharp, facing more than four batters in a frame just once while scattering five hits and two walks over seven innings, but he was the first to admit that his teammates made him look good.
"I think we always play good defense, but there weren't too many easy plays out there today," Blanton said. "I could go around the whole diamond ... everyone seemed to make at least one great play."
Not everyone. But there were no fewer than seven stellar defensive efforts that helped keep the Red Sox at bay.
Kotsay, who went 3-for-4 with three RBIs to close out a series in which he went 10-for-18, chipped in by throwing out Manny Ramirez at third base from center field to end the sixth inning. He was stumped when asked if he remembers the A's playing better defense in a game since he joined the club before the 2004 season.
"Not off the top of my head," he said. "This was about as good as it gets."
And that was despite two errors. Both were made by third baseman Marco Scutaro -- one on a dropped foul popup -- but he atoned with a diving stop of a Kevin Youkilis smash in the bottom of the eighth. His throw to first base was in the dirt, but backup catcher Adam Melhuse, in his first start at the position since 2000, made a slick dig for the out.
Melhuse made a similar dig later in the inning.
"You see two errors on the scoreboard, but oh my goodness, what defense," gushed Macha.
Second baseman Mark Ellis set the tone, ranging to his left to make a diving stop of a Trot Nixon rocket and end the first inning with two runners on. And right fielder Jay Payton made the highlight reel twice, robbing David Ortiz with a sliding catch in the dirt near the right-field line in the fourth and making a leaping catch after a long run to steal at least a double from Coco Crisp in the fifth.
"It was like guys were taking turns making SportsCenter," said Swisher. "They might have to have an all-Oakland A's edition of the top 10 plays of the day tonight."
Swisher was supposed to have the day off, but Thomas, who drilled a single off the Green Monster in his only at-bat, was lifted with an accelerated heart beat and extreme dizziness in the fourth inning.
Thomas said he had a couple of espresso shots before the game, which might not have been the wisest move, considering the game was played in 93-degree heat and major humidity.
"That's it for pregame espressos," Thomas said. "I have no idea how I got a hit. I couldn't even see the ball."
Oakland hadn't done much with Red Sox starter Kyle Snyder until the right-hander suddenly lost his command of the strike zone in the fifth.
Singles by Bobby Crosby and Bobby Kielty opened the inning, and with Melhuse looking to lay down a sacrifice bunt, Snyder hit him in the back to load the bases before walking Scutaro to force in a run.
Jason Kendall and Ellis then struck out, but Kotsay lined a two-run single into center, and Swisher and Payton followed with RBI singles.
The A's closed the scoring with three runs in the ninth, getting a nice hit-and-run single from Kendall, who had three of Oakland's 15 hits, an RBI double from Ellis, an RBI single from Kotsay and a sacrifice fly from Payton.
Having taken three of four from the leader of the American League East, the A's now travel to Baltimore, where the Orioles gave them a hand on Sunday by knocking off the Rangers and putting Oakland out in front of the American League West race by a game.
"This was an important series for us, and we played very well against a very good team," Kotsay said. "The trick is taking it to Baltimore with us."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.