A's drop final road game of 2007
Murphy, Piazza homer, but Blanton, bullpen struggle in Boston
BOSTON -- The hard-charging Red Sox, looking like they had a division to clinch, kept the pressure on Joe Blanton and the A's on Wednesday night.
As a result, Oakland lost control of a back-and-forth affair, falling, 11-6, in its last road game of the 2007 season.
"They have a solid lineup, and their record speaks for itself," said A's manager Bob Geren.
The Red Sox scored six unanswered runs to close out the game, three before A's reliever Jerry Blevins could record an out in the sixth. They scored after hard-hit singles, after doubles off the Green Monster, even after a J.D. Drew fly ball that overshot the glove of Oakland center fielder Nick Swisher.
"The wind took it back to left-center," said Swisher of his sixth-inning error. "[It] got me spun around. I missed by a foot. [I] wasn't even close to it."
Blevins allowed four runs and three hits as his ERA since a mid-September trade from the Cubs jumped from 4.15 to 10.38.
"Jerry's a young kid that's only had four outings, and he's pitched very well," Geren said. "And we put him in a close game. It was a good situation for him to get in. He's been pitching very well. [He] just got a few balls over the middle of the plate tonight."
For the first five innings, the A's and Red Sox traded jabs. The A's drew first blood with Swisher's third-inning sacrifice fly. Then, dropping behind after allowing the first four Red Sox to reach in the bottom of the inning, Oakland scored three more to take a 4-3 lead in the top of the fourth. The crowning blow: a three-run blast by shortstop Donnie Murphy, which traveled well over the Green Monster and onto Lansdowne Street.
Once again, Blanton couldn't hold the lead. Boston's Dustin Pedroia laced a one-out double in the fourth, scoring on a single by Manny Ramirez. Singles by David Ortiz and Mike Lowell put the Red Sox on top, 5-4.
"When teams get hot, or they get on the streak, or they're going for the playoffs, or whatever it is," Blanton said, "it's like every bloop falls in, every ground ball finds a hole. So you know that, on top of good hitters, with some clutch [hitting] like they had, that's what's going to happen."
The A's tied it at 5 in the bottom of the inning when Mike Piazza walloped an outside 1-2 cutter off the giant Coke bottles above the Green Monster. The 427th homer of his career moved Piazza ahead of Billy Williams into 39th on the all-time list. It was his first game since Sunday.
"Just with the schedule," Piazza said, "I've got to take advantage of my at-bats right now. Just keep hacking and hopefully you'll run into a few."
Although the A's got to Red Sox starter Jon Lester, they managed to strike out nine times against him in 4 1/3 innings. Lester, coincidentally, was only the second Red Sox pitcher since 1957 to punch out nine in a start of less than five innings, as he struggled in innings three and four.
"First three [innings]," said Swisher, referring to the game's odd 5 p.m. ET start, "we just couldn't see. And that's not to take any of the credit away from him. Because he was spotting the ball up well tonight. ... But when we battled him in counts later in the innings, the sun started to come down. And, you know, we had ourselves a lot more great at-bats."
Pedroia homered for the Red Sox, who improved to 94-64 and shrunk their magic number to clinch the AL East to two games. The A's dropped to 75-84.
In his last appearance of the season, Blanton held steady at 14-10, finishing with an ERA of 3.95. In 2007, the 26-year-old righty set career highs in starts (34), innings (230), strikeouts (140) and ERA, and walked a career-low 1.57 batters per nine innings.
He never missed a start.
"He's in a select group of guys," Geren said. "I couldn't be more proud of him."
In a year in which the Athletics slid down the standings, only Blanton's win total (he won 16 games in 2006) seemed to fall short.
"I definitely felt like I was a better pitcher this year than last year," Blanton said. "I felt a lot smarter. I learned a lot as the year went on. I learned a lot from last year, going into this year. And I felt like I learned as the year went on this year. And you know, that's key. Sometimes wins aren't necessarily a reflection of how good you pitch, I don't think."
Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.