A’s score their runs with two outs, hold off Twins
OAKLAND – Manager Bob Geren couldn’t pick a particular hit that carried the Oakland Athletics in their latest nailbiter. There were several of them – and the A’s needed every one.
This team is accustomed to close games given that it has played four one-run contests in a row now.
“It’s just the games we play,” designated hitter Jack Cust said.
Gio Gonzalez struck out four in seven innings to win his third straight decision, and Oakland scored all of its runs with two outs in a 5-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Sunday.
Cust and Kevin Kouzmanoff hit back-to-back RBI singles in the first to stake Gonzalez (6-3) to an early 2-0 lead. Ryan Sweeney hit an RBI double in the second and Mark Ellis and Cliff Pennington then hit consecutive run-scoring singles in the third to chase Twins starter Nick Blackburn (6-3).
“Those are big two-out runs to keep the rally going,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said. “As a catcher, you hate when you give up two-out runs.”
Delmon Young hit a two-run homer off Tyson Ross in the eighth for the Twins.
The A’s avoided being swept by Minnesota in Oakland for the first time since July 18-20, 1997, bouncing back from one-run losses in the first two games of the series in a fittingly close finale.
“A lot of singles but we’re getting hits, getting guys on base and giving ourselves opportunities to score,” Ellis said. “We felt we could have won all three of these games.”
The Twins got one run back in the second on an error and Matt Tolbert added a third-inning sacrifice fly.
It didn’t help having their hottest hitter out.
Justin Morneau had the flu and didn’t start for the Twins a day after the A’s intentionally walked him as a pinch-hitter to start Minnesota’s ninth-inning rally in a 4-3 win. On Sunday, Morneau struck out as a pinch-hitter in the ninth.
Gonzalez allowed two runs on six hits and walked one in a 117-pitch performance. He threw the most pitches by an A’s starter since Joe Blanton’s 119 against the White Sox on July 4, 2008, at Chicago. Michael Wuertz earned his first save of the season in his first try, getting two strikeouts in a 1-2-3 ninth.
Gonzalez, coming off two straight no-decisions, won for the first time since beating the San Francisco Giants on May 22 and beat the Twins for the first time in three tries. He also finally figured out the Twins.
The lefty was tagged for a combined 18 hits and 18 runs in 5 2-3 innings of two starts last year against Minnesota.
“It’s a fresh start,” he said. “I did my homework this time.”
After the one-run losses in the first two games, including Friday night’s 5-4 loss in 11 innings, Oakland dropped out of first or second place in the AL West for the first time since losing its season opener to Seattle back on April 5. Sunday’s win helped get the team going again heading into a key four-game series against the rival Angels starting Monday night in the Coliseum.
Suzuki took a foul tip from Young off the neck and chin in the sixth, giving the A’s a scare. He stayed in the game after being examined by an athletic trainer. Suzuki thought he might have chipped a tooth but his mouth was intact.
Blackburn was done after Ellis and Pennington hit consecutive RBI singles with two outs in the third. His 2 2-3 innings marked his shortest outing of the season, topping the 3 2-3 innings he tossed in his previous start. He gave up 10 hits for the second straight start, one off his season high.
Blackburn is winless against the A’s in four career outings.
“They were spitting on my good pitches and hitting the mistakes,” he said. “They even hit some good pitches. There has to be some sort of reason for what happened and whatever it is I’m just going to keep working on the same things.”
Rajai Davis was caught stealing in the first for just the fourth time in 24 attempts. Blackburn has gone 94 2-3 innings without allowing a steal dating to Davis’ stolen bag last September.
After being swept in Seattle to start this road trip, the Twins rebounded to win this series for a 3-4 showing. They now head home for the next nine games.
Brendan Harris singled in the second to snap an 0-for-20 stretch, then Minnesota leadoff man Denard Span ended an 0-for-22 funk with a triple to start the third.
Notes: Ellis celebrated his 33rd birthday. … A’s CF Coco Crisp, on the disabled list for the second time this season, has begun hitting off a tee in his recovery from a strained chest muscle and will taking batting practice in the coming days. … Oakland DH Eric Chavez (neck injury) could begin a rehab assignment in about a week. … A’s LHP Dallas Braden, who pitched a perfect game May 9, hosted his former Little League team – Hoover Tyler – for Sunday’s “Little League Day.” Some 275 Little Leaguers from Braden’s hometown of Stockton attended.