OAKLAND — The A’s are playing so well of late, a hard-fought victory on Star Wars fireworks night seemed only fitting.
Yoenis Cespedes hit a two-run homer to left and Jonny Gomes added an RBI single as the A’s edged the Baltimore Orioles 3-2 Friday night.
The Athletics lead the top wild-card spot by two games over the Orioles and Yankees. Baltimore and New York are tied in the American League East and the second wild card spot.
The Force has been with the A’s since the All-Star break, though their MLB-best 40-18 record since then couldn’t gain them any ground in the division race. Oakland remains three games behind Texas in the American League West.
If the season were to end today, the Athletics, who lead the first wild-card spot, would only clinch a one-game playoff vs. the second place wild card team.
That means the daily grind of 162 games would come down to a winner-take-all, win-or-go-home scenario. Either way, it sounds pretty cruel. The winner would then have little time to rest, having to play in the division series within 48 hours.
For now, the A’s are just enjoying the ride and their quirky ways of having fun. That includes doing the Bernie, choreographed moves to Carly Mae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe, raging to One by Metallica when Grant Balfour warms up in the 9th, and whipped cream pies for walkoff wins.
A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson told SFBay after the game that the energy spilling from the stands was incredible:
“That eighth inning, the Bernie music came on, everybody’s doing the Bernie. … I got chills out there for a second and if everyday’s like that for the rest of the year, I’d be one happy person.”
Rookie Tommy Milone pitched 6 1/3 innings allowing six hits, two runs, one earned, walked two and struck out two. Milone (13-10) has won four of his last five starts.
Milone induced three of the four crucial double plays the Orioles grounded into in four straight innings:
“It’s huge, it kills the momentum for them. To be able to do that and get out of those innings unscathed was huge for us.”
Balfour closed it out in the 9th for his 18th save:
“I mean every game’s huge from here on out. Every game’s huge and tonight to play those close ballgames like that and come out on top, that’s big because you know going into the playoffs, you’re not going to have a blow out game.”
The game ended with a flourish as catcher Derek Norris threw out pinch runner Xavier Avery trying to steal second base.
The Orioles have also been as much a surprise as the A’s this season, though with a significantly higher payroll. The O’s rank 18th at $80.8 million, while the A’s are the most frugal of all 30 MLB teams at $49.1 million.
Baltimore took the lead in the third inning when Manny Machado singled to center and advanced to third. He scored on a bad hop grounder past third baseman Josh Donaldson who was charged with an error.
Orioles’ designated hitter Chris Davis homered to center field off Milone in the fifth. Other than that, the O’s kept hitting into double plays, four of them from the 4th through the 7th innings.
Trailing 1-0, the A’s answered back in the bottom of the 4th. After a leadoff single by Gomes, Cespedes lasered a line drive homer to left that just cleared the wall. The Cuban rookie has homered in three of the last four games.
Through interpreter and former A’s pitcher Ariel Prieto, Cespedes told SFBay:
“I don’t look for home runs. I only look to keep my mind strong and my mind always says that I can do it, I can do it, I can do it. It doesn’t matter if my body is tired but it’s OK, my mind is strong.”
The deciding run came in the fifth. Adam Rosales doubled to left and he scored on a single to left from Gomes.
McCarthy all smiles in clubhouse return
Before the game, pitcher Brandon McCarthy visited with teammates. On the final game of the last homestand against the Angels on September 5, McCarthy took a line drive off the head near his right ear from Los Angeles Angels’ Erick Aybar.
McCarthy required two hours of surgery to release the pressure from the swelling. Gomes gave him a team-autographed batting helmet with “heads up” written on the bill. He was even working on a crossword puzzle.
Besides a big scar and a strange haircut, teammates like Tommy Milone told SFBay that McCarthy looked good:
“I don’t know if emotional is the word, I think just happy. Everyone was going up to him and obviously shaking his hand and asking him how he’s doing and what’s going on and it’s just one of those things where you feel for the guy and obviously it’s great to have him back and it’s great to see him in the clubhouse and to see that he’s doing OK.”
Milone set the Oakland rookie franchise record for wins in a season with 13 breaking a tie he held with Chris Codiroli (1983) and Joe Blanton (2005). The franchise record is 15 by Harry Byrd who won rookie of the year honors for the Philadelphia A’s in 1952.