Smith steals the spotlight in opener
Southpaw allows just four hits in complete game to top Angels
ANAHEIM -- Anyone still wondering how the no-name A's continue to confound convention by keeping the heat on the Angels in the American League West?
Get your hands on a replay of Oakland's 6-1 win on Monday in the opener of a three-game showdown at Angel Stadium.
More than anything, the A's win with pitching. They entered the series with the stingiest starting staff in the Majors, checking in with an ERA of 3.48. Rookie lefty Greg Smith lowered it with an economical four-hitter.
The A's also are winning with balance. With future Hall of Famer Frank Thomas and five-time All-Star Mike Sweeney on the disabled list, the only thing close to a household name in the batting order is Eric Chavez. And while Chavez came up with the biggest hit of the game on Monday, five of his far-lesser-known teammates each had at least two of Oakland's 13 hits.
And that brings us to the third side of the team's Triangle of Triumph: youth.
Smith was backed by fellow rookies Carlos Gonzalez, Daric Barton and Ryan Sweeney, who combined to go 7-for-14, and Kurt Suzuki, who doesn't qualify as a rookie but has yet to play a full season's worth of games, went 2-for-4. The foursome scored four runs and drove in two.
"It's awesome," said Barton, whose two-out RBI single off Angels starter Jon Garland in the second inning gave Smith the 2-0 lead he masterfully milked on the way to the first nine-inning complete game of his career.
"With the young team we have here, nobody has any expectations, so we can just go out there loose and have fun. There's absolutely no hype to live up to, so there's no pressure whatsoever."
Smith certainly didn't look like he was under any pressure while helping the A's cut the Halos' lead in the division to 3 1/2 games. He was in control throughout, painting the outside corner against the Angels' all-righty lineup and sending a steady stream of lazy fly balls to the outfield.
Many of them made their way to Ryan Sweeney, who was playing for the first time since spraining his left ankle last Thursday. Oakland's starting right fielder made eight putouts in the first six innings, including three in the first inning alone.
A's manager Bob Geren said Sweeney's busy night was a source of great amusement in the dugout, with Mike Sweeney, who had surgery on both knees in early June, leading the charge.
"I was saying, 'Leave the poor crippled kid alone out there,'" Mike Sweeney said. "The guy's hobbling around and every other ball finds him. Most guys would be on the disabled list with that ankle and he's out there getting worn out."
Ryan Sweeney moved to left in the eighth when the A's went with their prevent defense -- Rajai Davis entered the game and moved starting center fielder Gonzalez over to right -- and promptly got a ninth routine fly ball over there.
Asked if he was intentionally trying to get the outfielder some work in his return to action, Smith did a quick tongue-in-cheek version of coach-speak.
"Yeah, just trying to get him some action, make sure he's OK out there and see how he feels tomorrow," Smith deadpanned.
Smith was far more serious when talking about the video study he'd done before facing the Angels, who beat him 2-0 in Anaheim on April 29 in Smith's first complete game, and beat him again on June 7 in Oakland by scoring five runs (four earned) on seven hits and three walks over 6 1/3 innings.
"I didn't look at video of the Angels," he said. "It was more looking at video of guys like Andy Pettitte and Kenny Rogers and Cliff Lee."
Smith said he learned a lot from watching the trio of veteran lefties, marveling at everything from their demeanor to how they manage a game, and came away with something of an in-game mantra.
"'Throw strikes, hit your spots, relax and throw your pitches,'" Smith said. "That's basically what I was telling myself."
And that's what he did, earning praise from the losing clubhouse.
"As the game went on, it seemed like his command got better and better," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said of Smith, who walked two and struck out three. "We weren't getting many good looks. ... He was pounding the strike zone."
"He throws strikes and he gets outs, bottom line," added Halos first baseman Casey Kotchman. "That's kind of the name of the game -- throw strikes, get outs."
Bobby Crosby got Oakland's rally started in the second with his team-high 26th double, took third when Gonzalez singled off Garland's glove, and scored on a groundout by Mark Ellis, after which Barton scored Gonzalez with a two-out single to center.
Mike Napoli's 12th homer of the year broke up Smith's shutout bid in the bottom of the fifth, but the A's countered with another pair of runs in the seventh, which Sweeney opened with a broken-bat infield single.
Suzuki followed with a drive to deep left field that Angels outfielder Juan Rivera dropped for a two-base error that pushed Sweeney to third and chased Garland. Chavez, who returned to Oakland's lineup after missing the previous three games with a sore right shoulder, made it 4-1 with a two-run single just inside first base off lefty Darren Oliver.
"We got some clutch hits tonight, and Eric's was a big one," Geren said.
Sweeney made it 5-1 with a double in the eighth to score Barton, who had singled with two outs, and Gonzalez's third hit of the night helped lead to an unearned run to cap the scoring in the ninth.
With each insurance run, Geren said, Smith's chances of finishing what he started grew. Just to be safe, though, Smith said he walked in the opposite direction and avoided eye contact with his manager in the dugout after the bottom of the ninth.
"If it was a save situation, it would have been tough not to give it to [closer Huston] Street," Geren said. "But I'm glad it worked out the way it did."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.