Athletics 7, Yankees 4
Yes, the 22-year-old right-hander who was criticized all spring handled the heart of one of baseball’s best lineups with the calm of a veteran.
And after Harden was done, he preferred to talk hockey instead of pitching.
“Calgary’s going to win,” he said with a grin, referring to the Flames’ Western Conference final series against the San Jose Sharks.
Harden, a former hockey player who lived in Calgary as a child before moving to Victoria, British Columbia, retired 19 of 21 during one stretch, starting with the first strikeout of A-Rod in the second.
“Sometimes in life you suddenly can’t do anything right,” Sheffield said. “He found a rhythm tonight and kept with it.”
Mark Kotsay matched his career high with four RBIs, helping the A’s avoid their first three-game sweep by the Yankees in Oakland since May 31-June 2, 1996. Erubiel Durazo went 3-for-3 with a solo homer. The A’s had lost nine of 11 and three straight.
Harden, making his first career appearance against the Yankees, fell behind 4-0 on five straight hits in the second inning, then settled down and calmly held New York in check the rest of the way.
He retired the side in order in the third, fourth, sixth and seventh innings, striking out Jeter and Rodriguez in consecutive at-bats to end the seventh. Harden threw a career-high 121 pitches in a career-high 7 2-3 innings, leaving to a standing ovation.
“It’s pretty exciting, but I’ve still got another one in five more days,” he said.
The Yankees were held to six hits after getting 28 in the first two games of the series. New York won the first five meetings between the teams in 2004, including a three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium last week.
Kotsay hit a two-run double in the second and drove in two more with his sixth-inning single. It was the sixth time he’s had four RBIs in a game and the first since Aug. 4, 2002, against Cincinnati.
The Yankees, who also had an eight-game winning streak last season, lost for the first time since April 25, when they were swept in three games by rival Boston. They were trying to win nine in a row for the first time since June 27-July 6, 2001.
“We learned a lot about ourselves during the bad streak and this streak,” manager Joe Torre said. “We’re starting to find our personality. … We struck out tonight a little more than we normally have. You can’t place blame as much as give credit to the other side.”
Harden (1-2) hit Posada on the right elbow with 95 mph fastball in the fifth, but didn’t let it faze him.
“He’s made a quantum leap from spring training,” manager Ken Macha said.
Macha met with his maligned bullpen before the game to let the relievers know he hasn’t lost confidence in them.
Ricardo Rincon entered with runners on first and second in the eighth and struck out Tony Clark. Jim Mecir pitched a perfect ninth for his first save. Closer Arthur Rhodes wasn’t available after throwing 34 pitches and blowing a save Wednesday.
“No problems. Everything’s all right,” Rincon said. “It’s concentration more than anything for me.”
Javier Vazquez (3-3) struggled in his sixth start of the season, allowing seven runs and six hits in 5 2-3 innings.
The A’s loaded the bases against Vazquez with two outs in the sixth on a pair of singles and a walk, then Vazquez walked pinch-hitter Billy McMillon to score Durazo for a 5-4 lead. Kotsay then hit his two-run single.
“I’m a pitcher who likes to throw strikes,” Vazquez said. “When I’m walking people, I know I don’t have it.”
In the second, Enrique Wilson hit an RBI single and New York also got a two-run triple from Kenny Lofton, who played for the first time since coming off the disabled list Sunday with a strained right quadriceps muscle. He had been hitless in his last 10 at-bats and was batting .167 in six games.
Oakland added three runs in the second. Damian Miller walked with the bases loaded, and Kotsay hit a two-run double.
Durazo connected for his fifth homer of the year in the sixth, tying it at4.
Kotsay is 5-for-11 with two outs and runners in scoring position. … Yankees 1B Jason Giambi was held out of the starting lineup with the stomachflu.