Blanton, A's fall short in pitchers' duel
Right-hander takes tough-luck loss; Cust supplies lone run
OAKLAND -- A's right-hander Joe Blanton finally got back to doing what he's done so well over the years, bouncing back from an early setback to give Oakland's offense plenty of time to get back into the game.
Unfortunately for Blanton and the A's, Angels righty John Lackey was up to his old tricks, too.
Blanton, frustrated of late by his inability to avoid big innings by his opponents, gave up a home run to Maicer Izturis to open the first game of a three-game series against the rival Halos at McAfee Coliseum on Friday night, but he stuck around for seven innings and allowed only one more earned run.
Lackey, however, continued his pattern of frustrating Oakland's offense with a dominant seven-inning outing to pick up his 13th career win over the A's, who fell 4 1/2 games behind the front-running Angels in the American League West with a 3-1 loss.
"He's one of the better pitchers in the league, for sure, and he pitched like it tonight," Oakland manager Bob Geren said.
Lackey, now 13-3 with a 2.77 ERA in 24 career starts against the A's, didn't walk a batter Friday and allowed four hits while striking out five. The only hit of consequence was Jack Cust's homer on Lackey's first pitch in the bottom of the seventh, and his performance drew raves in the losing clubhouse.
"It looked like he was throwing darts," Blanton said.
Mark Ellis, one of two current Athletics who has more than 40 career at-bats against Lackey, suggested that Lackey's command is what sets him apart from most of his AL counterparts.
"He always pitches good against us," Ellis said. "His stuff, it's about average. There's guys with better stuff, but he really knows how to pitch. When he's on, he's as good as there is in the league."
After Bobby Crosby singled with one out in the first inning, Lackey retired 15 in a row before Kurt Suzuki doubled in the sixth. Lackey quickly retired Jack Hannahan and Crosby to keep his shutout intact, and after Cust broke up the shutout and a two-out double by Daric Barton in the seventh brought Travis Buck to the plate as the potential tying run, Lackey struck out Buck on four pitches, the last one a sharp curveball.
"He had pretty much pinpoint control of everything," Geren said.
Blanton's work wasn't nearly as clean as Lackey's; the Angels had at least one runner reach base in six of the first seven innings. But after Izturis' homer and before a soft RBI single to left field by Jeff Mathis in the seventh, the Halos mustered only an unearned run in the third.
"He was awesome," Ellis said of Blanton, who gave up seven hits and a walk while striking out three. "He was incredible tonight, especially after giving up that leadoff home run. He really settled down."
That was one of the positives -- along with seeing the rewards of the work he'd put in on his slider between starts -- that Blanton said he'd take out of the tough loss.
"I was definitely a little more pleased with that," he said of bending but not breaking. "I just tried to shut it down [after the homer] and keep us in the game."
He did just that, but the offense never came around. Angels righty reliever Jose Arredondo survived a two-out single by Hannahan in the eighth, and closer Francisco Rodriguez nailed down his 25th save of the season with a perfect ninth.
As is typical when quick workers such as Blanton and Lackey lock horns, it was a tidy little game. The last pitch was delivered two hours, 13 minutes after the first.
"Blanton's a good pitcher," Lackey said. "He's a guy who really goes after hitters, challenging guys. You know you have to pitch well against a guy like that."
"Joe pitched good enough to win," Geren said, "but their guy obviously pitched a little bit better."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.