Athletics 4, Devil Rays 3
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)—During a nine-game winning streak, it’s important to get a few breaks. The Oakland Athletics got a big one on Sunday—and it prompted the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to start a food fight.
Oakland took control of its 13th win in 15 games with three runs in the fifth. The rally was helped along when the umpires declined to call a swinging third strike on Ramon Hernandez, who drew a walk instead.
Before the ensuing rhubarb was over, Tampa Bay coaches Lee Elia and John McLaren had been ejected, a tray of candy and gum had been thrown on the field, and manager Lou Piniella had taken a historical perspective.
“That’s as blatant a check-swing as I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been in the big leagues since 1969,” Piniella said. “Oakland doesn’t need any help. They’re playing well as it is. … Three blind mice could have called it.
“I know umpires have difficult jobs. I understand it, I really do. But that one, there’s no rhyme or reason to miss a call like that. This guy almost spun around like a top at home plate. I guess when you win, things go your way.”
First-base umpire Joe Brinkman said he just saw something come out of the dugout.
“I didn’t see who it was who threw it,” Brinkman said. “We told Lou that if the person who threw it came forward, he would be tossed. Otherwise, it would be Lou. Elia came forward, then McLaren came out to argue, and he was tossed.”
And Tampa Bay wasn’t even done abusing its snack foods. After starter Jeremi Gonzalez finished his complete game, he had to be restrained from going after Brinkman, who had declined to make the fifth-inning call.
Gonzalez then threw a bucket of sunflower seeds onto the field before getting ejected.
“I think they will check the video, hopefully,” Gonzalez said with a grin. “They are human. They can make mistakes.”
The A’s won with more than good fortune, however. Reliever Ricardo Rincon protected the lead by adeptly blocking the plate in the eighth inning and tagging out Tampa Bay speedster Carl Crawford, who tried to score from third when Rincon’s pitch got away from Hernandez.
Rincon got spiked by Crawford, but he stayed in for two more outs before Chad Bradford finished up for his second save.
“On a bad play, we caught a break and got the guy out at home,” Oakland manager Ken Macha said. “When you get into little streaks, guys start picking each other up.”
Oakland’s streak is little only by comparison. The A’s aren’t quite halfway to their AL-record streak of 20 straight victories last season, but they’ve taken a two-game lead over Seattle in the AL West with 25 games remaining.
Harden (4-3) pitched seven strong innings, reclaiming the control and blazing fastball that got him off to a 3-0 start in July. He allowed three runs, five hits and a walk, retiring 12 of the Devil Rays’ final 14 hitters.
“All the work I’ve been putting in has been helping me out a lot,” Harden said. “It makes me feel a lot better, and it’s great having the team play the way it’s playing right now. Everybody picks everybody up.”
Aubrey Huff finished a torrid August by hitting a two-run homer and a run-scoring single for the Devil Rays, who lost for the ninth time in 11 games.
Gonzalez (6-7), who allowed four hits and four runs in his second complete game of the season, was outstanding in his first start since returning from a trip to his home in Venezuela for four days to be with his ailing wife.
Tejada hit his 24th homer in the second inning. The reigning AL MVP hit .333 in August with seven homers and 24 RBIs.
After Hernandez walked in the fifth, Terrence Long singled to load the bases. Frank Menechino drove in a run with an infield single before Chris Singleton hit a sacrifice fly and Jose Guillen got a run-scoring double.
The Devil Rays still were steaming about the non-call in the fifth inning, and thought it set the tone for the rest of the game.
“Everybody in the park knew he struck out except for (Brinkman),” Huff said. “You pitch a whole different inning after that. It was a bad call, oneof the worst I’ve ever seen.”
Huff has a 10-game hitting streak. He hit .359 (42-for-117) in August. … Crawford stole two more bases for Tampa Bay, increasing his AL-leading total to 45. … The A’s recalled SS Bobby Crosby, Tejada’s heir apparent. Crosby was the PCL’s rookie of the year with Triple-A Sacramento. … Oakland also plans to recall right-hander Mike Wood and knuckleballer Steve Sparks before Tuesday’s game in Baltimore. … Moments after the coaches’ ejections, Piniella asked Coliseum security to remove a heckling fan from behind the Devil Rays’ dugout. “He was on everybody from the start of the game,” Piniellasaid. “They probably waited three innings too long.”