O.CO COLISEUM — The defending World Champion Boston Red Sox can no longer count on their fans overwhelming Oakland’s at the Coliseum.
On Friday, in front of 28,602 paying customers — sharply down from the 50,000-plus who used to show up for Red Sox games here at the turn of the century — the A’s added onto their major league-best record with a 4-3 victory, ensuring at least a split of the weekend’s four-game series.
After lefty starter Brad Mills struck out the side to start the game, third baseman Josh Donaldson — recently emerged from an 0-for-31 stretch — gave the newest member of the Athletics three runs to work with in the bottom of the inning.
Donaldson’s laser-shot line drive cleared the left field scoreboard into the bleachers with two aboard. But Mills could only make it through four innings, and left with the game tied 3-3.
Coco Crisp’s night off ended in the seventh, when he pinch-hit for Craig Gentry and took over in center. He struck out in his first at-bat, but in the eighth with two aboard — both hit in the right foot by Boston reliever Andrew Miller — Crisp slapped a two-strike pitch into short right field to send home 6-foot-6 Kyle Blanks with the game-winner.
Manager Bob Melvin said:
“It was a complete win today. … Coco came up huge for us. There’ve been so many times in the last couple of years that he’s come up in situations like that and come through for us that you almost take it for granted.”
But Miller, Melvin pointed out, was mixing mid-90s fastballs with a tough breaking ball:
“Just a great piece of hitting.”
Mills, purchased Tuesday from the Brewers’ minor-league system, where he’d been enjoying one of the year’s best bush-league seasons, labored after his flashy first. He walked a hitter every inning and needed almost 100 pitches to get through four frames.
Donaldson’s stake didn’t last long, as the A’s defense let Mills down in the second before picking him right back up.
With one out and two aboard, second baseman Nick Punto misplayed an almost certain double-play ball, his toss pulling shortstop Jed Lowrie off the bag.
Lowrie’s throw to first very nearly nailed former A’s shortstop Steven Drew, but when the next hitter, Jackie Bradley Jr., singled to center, both Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes scored.
Centerfielder Craig Gentry atoned to end the inning on the next at-bat however, sliding to his left to snare Brock Holts sinking liner and tossing quickly to Lowrie to double Drew off second.
Mills continued to labor in the third, and paid the price. Leadoff hitter Xander Bogaerts drew a walk and came around to score on singles by David Ortiz and Napoli.
Melvin said of Mills:
“He got off to a heck of a start, striking out the side … I thought his stuff looked reasonably good. He just threw a lot of pitches.”
Melvin noted too, that not turning the double play extended the second inning:
“I wasn’t going to let him throw more.”
$10 million benchwarmer Jim Johnson took over in the fifth and escaped with the tie intact, despite loading the bases on two hits and a walk before Drew’s grounder ended it. Johnson struck out two.
The A’s had runners on base in every inning but the second, but couldn’t capitalize until Crisp came through. Ryan Cook had two efficient innings, and Fernando Abad benefited from a tidy 5-4-3 double play in the eighth after A.J. Pierzynski’s leadoff single as the scoreless innings extended the game past the three-hour point.
After striking out Brandon Moss to start the bottom of the eighth, Miller hit both Blanks and Alberto Callaspo in the right foot — the fourth and fifth hit batsmen of the game — before striking out number nine hitter Punto.
Up came Crisp. Boston right fielder Holt’s throw home was well up line — no Yoenis Cespedes or Josh Reddick he — and Blanks scored easily to break the tie.
Junichi Tazawa came in and retired Lowrie on one pitch, setting the stage for Sean Doolittle’s ninth-inning entrance as Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” rocked the yard.
Nine pitches later, Oakland’s major-league leading 46th win was in the books.
Center fielder Craig Gentry was awarded first base on a hit-by-pitch leading off the bottom of the third after manager Bob Melvin asked for a replay. It took the umpires a mere 48 seconds to determine the A’s leadoff hitter had been hit on his right foot by Felix Doubront’s pitch. … Catcher Derek Norris left the game in the top of the seventh after taking a foul tip off his catching hand the inning before. Melvin said X-rays were negative.