OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)—Power hitting from a backup catcher. Strong pitching from a spot starter who hadn’t won in three months. Fine defense from a club not known for its glove work.
The Oakland Athletics are finding many unusual ways to make their usual second-half surge.
With slumping Seattle’s loss to Tampa Bay, Oakland increased its lead atop the AL West to two games. Until Wednesday night, the A’s hadn’t been alone in first place since April 12—but with another late-season streak from the majors’ best post-break club in the past four years, Oakland is setting the pace again.
“We’re playing great baseball,” said Halama (3-4), who won for the first time since May 8. “We’re riding a high right now, and if we can continue to ride this high and put some space between us and Seattle, we’re going to be in great shape.
“I’m sure Seattle is reading the scoreboard or looking at the newspaper, and they know we’re playing good baseball.”
Scott Hatteberg homered and Mark Ellis added an RBI triple, and both players also made several of Oakland’s string of good defensive plays. The A’s cruised to their 10th win in 12 games—and their sixth straight victory over the Orioles, who lost their fifth straight.
Oakland had a four-run first inning, though the runs came from unlikely sources. Shortly after Hatteberg hit the first leadoff homer of his career, Melhuse hit his fourth homer of the season against Rodrigo Lopez (6-9).
Melhuse, the seldom-used backup to All-Star Ramon Hernandez, has a hit in every one of his five games in August—including a similar homer against Toronto last week.
“As for the power, I don’t know how or where that’s coming from,” Melhuse said. “But I’ve been getting into some pretty good hitters’ counts right now, seeing some pitches over the middle of the plate. I don’t get many chances, but anything I can do to help whenever I’m in there, I’m going to try to do it.”
Terrence Long had an RBI single in the third, and Ellis followed with a triple to the right-center gap.
Halama began the season as the A’s fifth starter, but was banished to the bullpen three months ago. He was resourceful and consistent—and very lucky to have Oakland’s strong defense behind him—in his second spot start in place of 15-game winner Mark Mulder, who’s probably out for the season with a broken leg bone near his hip.
“Everybody knows that having Mulder out there is a lot better than myself, but I’ve just got to go out there and make a good effort and try to keep up in games,” Halama said. I just tried to locate the ball down in the zone and let them get themselves out with ground balls.”
After a rocky first inning, Halama held the Orioles to six hits and two runs while surviving through 6 2-3 innings. Halama raised his glove in salute to the standing ovation he received on the way to the dugout.
Lopez, who pitched a complete-game loss at the Coliseum last month, allowed eight hits and six runs in three innings.
“He just didn’t have it, from the first pitch on,” Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove said. “We tried to leave him in there to see if he could find it. We’d been going to our bullpen a lot lately … but it was just obvious it wasn’t going to happen.”
It was Lopez’s shortest start since May 1, when he was forced to leave his start against Detroit after one inning with a muscle strain that kept him out of action for six weeks.
“It just wasn’t my day,” Lopez said. “I think it could be better, but I’m still working on the finishing part. It’s going to be a tough season, but the only way I can (become) consistent is to keep pitching.”
Larry Bigbie and Brian Roberts homered for the Orioles, who also mounted a rally in the seventh. A’s reliever Chad Harville allowed Tim Raines Jr.’s RBI triple and Deivi Cruz’s run-scoring single before B.J. Surhoff lined out to second with two runners on.
“This whole series, you could make a defensive highlight film out of the plays they made,” Hargrove said.
It was the first major league RBI and the first triple for Raines, whoplayed briefly with his famous father two years ago in Baltimore.
Baltimore OF Luis Matos missed his second straight game after getting hit on the left wrist Tuesday night, but manager Mike Hargrove expects him to be ready on Friday for the opener of the Orioles’ series in Seattle. Matos is in a 10-for-62 slump. … A’s OF Jermaine Dye is doing well in his rehab stint with Triple-A Sacramento, but Oakland doesn’t expect to recall him until next week. … The A’s are 17-9 in August. That’s the best mark in the majors. …Baltimore reliever John Parrish struck out the side in the seventh.