A’s hold off Angels in 9th for 5th straight win
AP Sports Writer
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) – Jerry Blevins has been near the back of the Oakland bullpen for most of his six seasons with the Athletics, rarely shining and sometimes struggling.
Given an unlikely chance to bail out closer Grant Balfour in a key rivalry game, the left-hander succeeded against the odds – just like his A’s have been doing all season long.
Blevins got Howie Kendrick to ground into a game-ending double play with two runners on in the ninth inning, and the A’s held off the Los Angeles Angels 6-5 Tuesday night for their fifth straight victory.
“So far, it’s the best moment of my career, and the most exciting,” Blevins said. “It even trumps my debut.”
Torii Hunter and Albert Pujols had run-scoring singles in the ninth for the Angels, who had runners at the corners and nobody out before Blevins relieved Balfour.
Blevins earned his first save since 2010 – and just the second of his career – in dramatic fashion, preserving the A’s 11th straight road victory when Kendrick hit a fastball straight at third baseman Josh Donaldson.
His only disappointment? No teammates put a shaving-cream pie in his face during his postgame interview.
“(Balfour) has picked us up all year,” Blevins said. “He’s been rock-steady, and it’s good to give him a little payback.”
Balfour walked Chris Iannetta and Mike Trout to open the ninth, and said he felt squeezed by home plate umpire Paul Schrieber. Hunter cut Oakland’s lead to two runs with a single to center before Pujols drove a single to left, forcing manager Bob Melvin to make a move.
“With none out right there? I don’t think it could be much tougher,” said Balfour, who watched Blevins’ work from the top step of the dugout. “That’s about as hard as it gets, and he did it perfectly.”
Blevins, who had just one save in his first 204 career appearances, struck out Kendrys Morales with a nasty changeup. Kendrick then grounded to third, and Oakland smartly turned the double play to end it.
“I put a good swing on the fastball, and it just happened to be right at the third baseman,” said Kendrick, who went 0 for 5. “It happens sometimes. We had an opportunity to win the game, and it just didn’t happen. But you want to be that guy up there to get that big hit.”
Brandon Moss and Yoenis Cespedes homered and Dan Straily pitched into the seventh inning of his fourth major league start for the A’s. Oakland matched the second-longest road winning streak in franchise history.
Coco Crisp hit a ninth-inning RBI triple and scored what turned out to be the winning run on Hunter’s error in right field for the A’s, who have taken two straight at Angel Stadium with a rookie starter on the mound.
Straily (2-0) yielded seven hits and struck out eight in his first start since coming up from Triple-A Sacramento last week to take the rotation spot of injured right-hander Brandon McCarthy. He also atoned for a disappointing start against the Angels last month, when he gave up five runs and couldn’t get out of the fifth inning.
“I just wasn’t going to be embarrassed against these guys again,” Straily said. “In (the clubhouse), we were kind of going nuts when the double play happened. There were a lot of fist-pumps.”
Oakland (81-60) has won 14 of 17 and 20 of 25, moving 21 games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2006 season. The Athletics’ grasp on a wild-card spot gets stronger with each game in Anaheim, and they’re just three games behind Texas for the AL West lead.
The A’s hadn’t won 11 straight road games since 1981. They’ll attempt to match the franchise record of 12 straight road wins Wednesday night when A.J. Griffin pitches against Los Angeles’ Ervin Santana.
Vernon Wells hit an early two-run homer and Hunter chased Straily with a seventh-inning shot for the Angels, whose wild-card hopes took another hit. Los Angeles had won six straight and 11 of 12 before flopping twice against the A’s, who were swept by the Angels in a three-game series last week.
“This one definitely stings a little more, because we had opportunities and didn’t get the job done with runners on scoring position and less than two outs,” said Hunter, who connected for his 14th homer in the seventh. “But I guess you’ve got to commend the pitching staff over there for getting the job done.”
Trout had three hits for Los Angeles (77-65), which dropped 2 1/2 games behind Baltimore and the Yankees (79-62) for the second wild-card spot with its first back-to-back losses since Aug. 25-26. Tampa Bay (77-64) also is between the Angels and that wild-card slot.
Jerome Williams (6-8) couldn’t make it out of the fourth inning in his first start for Los Angeles since July 19. The veteran gave up four runs and five hits, including four straight during Oakland’s three-run fourth.
NOTES: Williams hadn’t pitched since Sept. 2. … Trout added another spectacular catch to his large collection, diving forward to snag Cespedes’ liner off the turf to end the fifth inning. … Angels reliever Jordan Walden struck out the side in the eighth.