Loss drops A’s into battle for playoff lives

U.S. CELLULAR FIELD — After leveling the series behind the arm of Jon Lester, the Oakland Athletics looked to grab the series lead in Chicago Wednesday night and take another step towards playing October baseball.

The White Sox and rookie Chris Bassitt had other plans, muzzling A’s hitters while showing just enough pop of their own in a somewhat sleepy 2-1 win.

The Los Angeles Angels stretched their AL West lead to a conspicuous nine games with 17 to play after an 8-1 drubbing of the Texas Rangers.

More than ever — tied with Detroit and just one-half game ahead of Seattle — it looks as though the A’s will need every bit of fight they have left simply to make the playoffs as a Wild Card.

With the confidence of Tuesday’s scorching bats freshly ingrained in the order, manager Bob Melvin sent Jeff Samardzija (4-5, 3.41 ERA) to the mound for his highly-anticipated return to Chicago.

Samardzija said:

“Coming back felt good. I love being in this city … It was fun to come back. I was able to get back into the routine I was in when playing here.”

Bassitt made  only his second career start in hopes to hound the A’s bats. It was apparent from the opening innings that the crowd in Chicago was in store for a pitchers’ duel.

Bassitt rose to the occasion sending the Athletics down in order the first time through the lineup before a Coco Crisp single led off the fourth.

A walk to Sam Fuld put runners on first and second, Bassitt looked to be in his first jam of the evening. A 6-4-3 double play from Josh Donaldson moved Crisp to third and Bassitt was one out away from escaping trouble.

But former White Sox slugger Adam Dunn drove in the game’s first run with a single to the opposite field and gave the A’s a 1-0 lead.

Fully locked in at this point, Samardzija took the mound in the fourth inning and sent the White Sox packing in order, helped out by an incredible diving snag by Josh Donaldson to end the inning.

Despite playing with fire yet again, Samardzija was able to escape a walk and stolen base by Avisail Garcia and a two-out walk by Jordan Danks by getting Carlos Sanchez to ground out to end the inning.

Samardzia stressed the importance of getting out of jams,

“I was out there grinding, trying to make pitches. I probably got a little lucky with those hard line outs with runners on.”

Chris Bassitt’s night would end after giving up a broken-bat single to Derek Norris. The rookie exited the field to a standing ovation from the crowd after throwing 95 pitches, giving up only one run on five hits, striking out five in 6-1/3 innings.

His relief, lefty Eric Surkamp, received some help from his defense with a spectacular diving catch by left fielder Jordan Danks, holding the Athletics scoreless in the seventh as Oakland squandered yet another opportunity to capitalize.

Athletics reliever Luke Gregerson spelled Jeff Samardzija after seven innings of scoreless baseball. The former Chicago Cub Samardzija left the game after 114 pitches, striking out six and walking only two.

A booted grounder by Eric Sogard and an error by first baseman Nate Freiman gave the White Sox new life in the eighth with the heart of the order coming up to bat.

After a wild pitch that advanced the runners, Gregerson struck out Alexei Ramirez and Jose Abreu bringing up the clean up hitter, Conor Gillaspie. A walk to Gillaspie would load the bases for Garcia, with the go-ahead run still at second base.

By this point there was the palpable feeling that Oakland had played with fire one too many times. Manager Bob Melvin felt the same thing:

“We have to keep grinding. … We’re trying, we’re prepared, but I think we’re a little tight because of the fact we’re not scoring runs.”

Melvin further reiterated the fact that the offense is putting far too much pressure on the pitching.

Ultimately, Garcia burst the pipes open with a two-out, two-RBI single up the middle plating both Garcia and Eaton for the 2-1 lead.

The blown relief rendered Samardzija winless in his last three starts and handed Gregerson (L, 4-4, 2.22 ERA) — a Chicago native — the loss along with his eighth blown save of the season, the most in the American League.

The Athletics (81-64) turn to All-Star Scott Kazmir (14-7, 3.42 ERA) in the series finale against White Sox ace Chris Sale (11-3, 2.09 ERA) tomorrow at 12:10 PDT from US Cellular Field.