US CELLULAR FIELD — On a chilly afternoon on the South Side of Chicago, the Oakland Athletics aimed to salvage a crucial series against Chicago White Sox ace, Chris Sale (12.3, 1.99 ERA).
With the A’s fighting for their playoff lives, manager Bob Melvin turned to Scott Kazmir (14-8, 3.32 ERA) to right the ship.
Kazmir, who hasn’t strung together consecutive wins since July 10, looked to right a ship of his own, and facing off against the White Sox perennial Cy Young candidate would prove to be no easy task.
The crafty left-hander rose to the occasion. However, despite Kazmir’s best efforts, the Athletics bats remained stagnant, mustering only one hit in the first seven innings.
The Athletics inability to muster any resemblance of an offense against Sale, made their game look pedestrian at times in the middle innings.
By the end of the two-hour and 18 minute matinee, it was evident the Athletics season could soon be over faster than the day’s game.
Similar to Wednesday, the game had the feel of a pitchers duel early.
After walking the leadoff hitter, Sale made quick work of the two and three hitters before striking out Jonny Gomes looking to end the inning. Kazmir matched sending down the White Sox in order in the bottom half.
Almost heroically, Kazmir matched him pitch for pitch, limiting the White Sox to only two baserunners through the first four innings.
Chicago shortstop Marcus Semien broke the tie with his fourth home run of the season on a 0-1 curveball by Kazmir. He would eventually escape the inning by recording his fourth strikeout and leaving Jose Abreu stranded at first base.
Kazmir talked about the pitch, saying:
“It felt good, location wise it maybe could have been better but it was good depth. It’s tough how one curve can decide a game.”
By this point, one run was all Chris Sale needed finishing his half of the seventh inning by retiring his 17th consecutive batter.
The end of the eighth would be Sale’s final of the game as he exited the field to a roaring ovation from the Chicago faithful. Sale’s final line was simply remarkable, giving up no earned, surrendering only two hits and striking out nine on 110 pitches.
Sox manager Robin Ventura would turn to closer Jake Petricka to seal the deal for against Sam Fuld, Josh Donaldson and Jonny Gomes. A leadoff single by Fuld gave the Athletics a breath of life, but the White Sox quickly shut off the oxygen tank turning a nifty 6-4-3 double play, pinning the A’s to their final out.
Former White Sox slugger Adam Dunn stepped up to the plate with the game in the balance. After drawing his 67th walk of the season, Derek Norris stepped up as Nick Punto spelled Dunn at first base.
Petricka struck out Norris swinging for his 13th save of the year rendering the Athletics’ comeback efforts moot.
Despite the one mistake to Semien in the sixth Kazmir pitched a gem of a game, going eight strong, surrendering only four hits, one run and seven strikeouts.
The Athletics (81-65) will travel to Seattle tonight for possibly the most important series of the season, as Jason Hammel (10-10, 3.55 ERA) looks to hold tight on the A’s narrow lead over the Mariners in the wild card race. First pitch is at 8:10 from Safeco Field.
Brian Lendino is the assistant sports editor of MajorOnions.com, Chicago’s unfiltered source for sports, music, and lifestyle.