Athletics 6, Orioles 2
Tejada hit two homers and Zito pitched eight innings of four-hit ball as the Athletics won their fifth straight, 6-2 over the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday night.
With outstanding performances by their two big award winners from last season—coupled with Seattle’s 8-4 loss to Tampa Bay—the surging A’s reclaimed sole possession of the top spot in the division for the first time since April 12.
“The whole night was pretty encouraging,” said Zito, who took a two-hitter into the eighth. “It’s nice at least to show ourselves that we can pull in front and not be a wild-card team this year.”
Zito (11-11) retired 19 of his first 21 batters. With his nasty curve and changeup back in top form, he struck out three and walked two in his third victory in four starts.
Oakland caught up to the Mariners last Monday atop the division won by the A’s last season. The teams meet six times in the final nine games of the season, however.
“I don’t know if we really feel too comfortable,” said Eric Chavez, who also homered as the A’s got their ninth win in 11 games. “We’ve still got a lot of head-to-head. I think that’s where it’s really going to be decided.”
Tejada, whose early season slump is becoming a distant memory, hit a solo homer in the second and a two-run shot in the fifth off Pat Hentgen (5-7). It was the seventh career multihomer game for last year’s AL MVP, and it extended his hitting streak to eight games.
“It’s better than being in second place,” Tejada said with a grin. “We’ve been playing great, and we’ve been through a lot of stuff this year. Everybody is happy with first place.”
With Mark Mulder probably lost for the season with a broken leg bone near his hip, the A’s are hoping their other left-handed ace will finally acquire the consistency he has lacked all season—and in his first start since Mulder’s injury was diagnosed, Zito was nearly unhittable.
“Zito was tough on us,” Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove said. “He had all his pitches working, and he was getting ahead with his curve. He didn’t miss many spots.”
Though Zito has the AL’s sixth-best ERA, he has made poor starts with alarming frequency—including his last one in Toronto, when he blew a three-run lead in the sixth.
“I’m sure Barry is going to say he’s not satisfied with his year,” Oakland manager Ken Macha said. “Hopefully, he will get on a roll and finish up strong, just pitching like he pitches.”
Zito won a matchup of former AL Cy Young winners. Hentgen, who won with Toronto in 1996, labored through 4 2-3 innings, throwing 113 pitches while allowing six hits, four walks and four runs.
“I battled with my command the whole game,” Hentgen said. “I was falling behind and walking people. I just pitched poorly.”
Chad Bradford worked the ninth for Oakland.
Brian Roberts had a run-scoring single in the eighth for the Orioles, who lost their fourth straight following a four-game winning streak. They haven’t beaten Oakland in five tries this season.
Cruz set a career high with his 14th homer in the fourth.
The A’s got their second run on Chris Singleton’s bases-loaded walk in the fourth, but Hentgen struck out Scott Hatteberg to end the rally. Oakland got another run in the sixth when Mark Ellis singled and scored on Hatteberg’s double-play grounder.
Chavez led off the seventh with his 24th homer.
Hentgen had five strikeouts—one shy of his season high. … The A’s are a season-high 23 games over .500. … Hatteberg hit leadoff in his first start since last Friday because of back problems. He got the game-winning hit Tuesday night as a pinch-hitter, slapping a bases-loaded single. … OF Luis Matos got the night off for Baltimore after getting hit on the left wrist in the 12th inning Tuesday night. X-rays on his wrist revealed no broken bones.Matos will be back “just whenever he can swing a bat,” Hargrove said.