Clutch hitting propels A's to road win
Team seizes scoring opportunities; Harden goes 3 2/3 frames
ARLINGTON -- The A's will spend Monday's off-day in Cleveland all alone in first place in the American League West Division because of what has kept them near the top of the division most of the season.
That is what has carried the A's to a surprising start that has seen them in first place 25 days this season, and clutch hitting was what keyed Sunday's 12-6 victory over the Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
Fifteen times, the A's came up with runners in scoring position, and seven times, they produced a hit. The A's were 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position in the first two games of this series, both losses, dropping their team average to .302. They raised it to .309 after Sunday.
In fact, the A's scored in a variety of ways Sunday. They had a sacrifice fly and they pulled off a double steal -- with some luck involved -- that scored the game-winning run. They also had their first home runs since Wednesday, a three-run home run in the first inning by Emil Brown and a two-run shot by Daric Barton in the ninth, only Oakland's 21st and 22nd home runs of the season.
"We got a little bit lucky, but we stayed aggressive and it's good to force the other team's hand," said second baseman Mark Ellis, who was involved in the double steal. "To be batting over .300 as a team with runners in scoring position, that's incredible. If we keep doing that we're going to win a lot of games."
Because of all of that, the A's finally broke free of a four-day tie for the AL West lead with the Los Angeles Angels, even though they lost the three-game series in Texas. That's because the Angels were swept by Tampa Bay this weekend.
An A's offense that led the American League in runs scored on May 3 had hit a skid here in the last week. The A's had averaged just over three runs per game since scoring 15 runs against the Angels on May 1.
The A's broke out of it Sunday. They snapped a game tied at 6 in the top of the seventh by scratching out runs against Rangers reliever Franklyn German.
Ellis and Bobby Crosby were successful on a double steal as Ellis broke for second and looked to be an easy out, but he managed to get himself into a rundown and Crosby was able to break for home at the right time to score the go-ahead run. "We got a little lucky there," manager Bob Geren said. "Bobby did a great job of breaking as the throw was going away from him."
Ryan Sweeney added his second sacrifice fly of the series in the inning to give the A's an 8-6 lead. Brown had a two-out RBI hit in the eighth for a three-run lead. And Barton capped a three-run ninth with a two-run home run to right field for a 12-6 lead.
The A's took a 4-0 lead in the top of the first on Frank Thomas' run-scoring single and Brown's three-run home run. It was the A's first home run since Ellis' walk-off homer against Baltimore on Wednesday.
"We hit a lot of balls hard today," said Ellis, who strained his left hamstring in the ninth inning. He will be evaluated on Monday, but Ellis said that he has pulled a hamstring before and this does not seem as serious.
A's starter Rich Harden came off the disabled list on Sunday to make his first start since April 2 and wasn't able to hold a 4-0 lead. He struggled with his control, walking four and hitting one batter. Three of those runners scored.
Harden lost the lead in the third when he gave up a two-out, two-run single to Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The Rangers took the lead against him in the bottom of the fourth on Josh Hamilton's two-out triple for a 5-4 lead.
But Geren said he thought that Harden threw the ball well. Harden said he felt strong overall, though he was disappointed that he threw 25 pitches in the first inning. But for this being his first start back, and with six trips to the disabled list in the last four years, seeing Harden get through the start was good enough for the A's.
"I was a little hesitant letting the ball go in the first inning," Harden said. "But I'm getting confidence back in my arm."
Todd Wills is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.