07/23/08 12:19 AM ET
Hannahan's homer helps A's snap skid
Braden goes five solid innings, giving up one run on four hits
By Mychael Urban / MLB.com
They pitched exceedingly well -- record-setting well, in fact -- and played solid, occasionally spectacular defense.
Perhaps being back in that comfort zone put the offense at ease and pulled it out of its freeze. Or maybe it was the 30-minute, coaches-only pregame powwow on the power of Kumbaya.
"We just met as a staff and talked about staying positive," said Oakland skipper Bob Geren. "The whole mood before the game even started was uplifting."
It was even better after the game. The A's needed their 8-1 rout over the Rays at Tropicana Field in the worst way.
"It was a nice evening," Geren said. "We had a lot of good things happen today. Everybody's happy."
As they should be. Jack Hannahan hit a three-run homer and had a career-high four RBIs, lefty Dallas Braden was solid in his first big league start of the year, no fewer than three sensational defensive plays robbed the Rays, and righty reliever Brad Ziegler set the American League record for consecutive scoreless innings -- 23 2/3 -- to start a career.
It all added up to a rare cruise-control win for the A's, who ended their longest losing streak of the season at six games and gave themselves a shot at winning the three-game series in Wednesday's matinee finale.
"It's nice to put some hits together, score some runs," said Hannahan, whose career night at the plate was complemented by a terrific defensive play at third base.
In the lineup in large part because he'd doubled and homered in five previous at-bats against Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine, Hannahan took a drag-bunt single away from former Athletic Carlos Pena in the sixth with a great barehanded grab and a strong throw to first.
An inning prior, rookie center fielder Carlos Gonzalez added to his rapidly growing personal highlight reel by taking extra bases away from Akinori Iwamura with a diving catch.
And in the eighth, rookie second baseman Brooks Conrad got into the act by going up the middle and making an athletic jump throw to taking an infield hit away from Carl Crawford.
"Our defense was ridiculous," said Braden, who allowed one run on four hits and four walks over five innings.
The A's have come to almost expect great pitching and defense, but few expected this from Ziegler. The sidearmer with near-criminal sink and command tied the AL record of 22 set by Boston's Boo Ferriss in 1945 when he retired Gabe Gross on a ground ball to start the seventh inning.
"I think for the most part he locates really well," Gross said. "He doesn't do a whole lot besides come right at you. You would think that would uncomplicate things, but he comes at you, tries to keep the ball down from that angle. When he's keeping the ball down, it's hard to do anything but beat the ball in the dirt."
After being told to roll the ball into the A's dugout, Ziegler retired Ben Zobrist to make the record his own. And after surviving a big scare when Pena's home run-distance drive to left faded foul in the eighth, Ziegler found himself 1 1/3 scoreless innings away from tying the all-time mark of 25 consecutive scoreless innings to start a career, set by Philadelphia's George McQuillan in 1907.
"It's exciting, obviously, to have any kind of record two months into my career," Ziegler said. "It's crazy."
Asked if he thought Pena's ball was going to stay fair, Ziegler said, "When he first hit it, I did. It wasn't a good pitch."
Poor pitches are a rarity for Ziegler, said Braden. The two were teammates at Triple-A Sacramento earlier this year.
"He's been unreal the entire year," Braden gushed. "He was our go-to guy in Triple-A, and he's our go-to guy here now. Just lights-out all year long."
Hannahan's homer, a one-out shot to right field that followed singles by Gonzalez and Bobby Crosby, was his second long ball in seven career at-bats against Sonnanstine. Hannahan also took him deep on May 21 in a 9-1 A's victory in Oakland.
"For some odd reason, I do well against certain players and certain players do well against me," Sonnanstine said. "Sometimes it's just their overall feeling coming into the at-bat. ... Maybe he just picks up my ball better than other guys."
"I can't put my finger on it, but I do see his ball real well," Hannahan said. "Any time you have some success against someone, it's good when you get to see him again."
The A's, who had scored a total of five runs over their previous four games, broke the game open in the eighth on an RBI double by Kurt Suzuki, a sacrifice fly by Crosby, an RBI single from Hannahan and a run-scoring throwing error by the Rays. Another Tampa Bay error capped the scoring in the ninth.
"Obviously it's a breakout for us," Braden said. "A shot in the arm."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.