Athletics 1, Indians 0
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)—When Barry Zito reached 108 pitches after six innings, he approached Ken Macha and assured his manager he’d be fine to go one more.
The way things were going, Macha had no doubts.
Zito (11-10) had not reached double digits in strikeouts since fanning 10 at Minnesota on May 27, 2003. He had struck out nine twice this season.
“I think I just found I relaxed a little more,” Zito said. “I think I put too much pressure on myself early in the year to be dominant.”
He also worked on elevating his fastball between starts, and it worked wonders.
After the A’s rallied to win 5-4 Saturday on consecutive eighth-inning home runs by rookies Bobby Crosby and Nick Swisher, Zito gave Oakland one of his best performances this year, allowing four hits in seven scoreless innings. His 125 pitches were his second-most ever—he threw 128 at Cleveland on Aug. 21, 2000.
Chris Hammond, Chad Bradford and Octavio Dotel completed the six-hit shutout. Dotel pitched the ninth for his 20th save in 25 chances, striking out Coco Crisp looking to end the game with runners on first and second.
“I thought it was important to prove to Macha that I could go out after 100 pitches and still have a quality inning,” Zito said. “It was big.”
Especially since Zito left his previous start last week against Boston after 6 1-3 innings and 119 pitches.
The A’s maintained their two-game AL West lead over Anaheim, which beat the Chicago White Sox 11-0. Oakland plays its final 20 games against the division, starting Monday night with the opener of a four-game series against Texas.
“We couldn’t ask for anything more on Sept. 12 being two games up and going back against our division,” Zito said. “This is what we look forward to the first day of spring training.”
Durazo connected with one out in the second, sending a 1-0 changeup from Jake Westbrook (12-8) over the center-field wall. He surpassed his home run total of 21 from last season, and the A’s improved to 14-5 in games in which he homers.
Zito walked Josh Phelps two batters after Martinez, but got Lou Merloni to fly out to left to escape the bases-loaded jam. That was the only inning an Indians runner got farther than first when Zito was in the game.
“We took it all the way to the last out,” Indians manager Eric Wedge said. “That will pay off for us in the future. We just couldn’t get that final knock to tie it or give us the lead.”
Macha said earlier in the day he expected a strong outing from Zito, the 2002 AL Cy Young winner. Zito was winless in his previous two starts and has struggled through an inconsistent season. The left-hander improved to 8-3 in 12 starts since the All-Star break.
“Barry was outstanding,” Macha said. “It was a clutch performance when we needed it. It was a pitching coach’s dream. … When you’re not scoring any runs, you have to make some pitches, and we did.”
Zito lost to Boston last Monday to become the first A’s pitcher since Mike Oquist in 1998 and ’99 to have back-to-back 10-loss seasons.
Cleveland won the season series 6-3, but Westbrook fell to 0-5 in seven career meetings with the A’s.
“One pitch, one mistake, and it cost us,” said Westbrook, who allowed only one run on five hits and struck out six in eight innings. “I threw the ball well and got out of some jams. … (Zito) pitched a great game and kept us off balance.”
Mark McLemore singled twice for the A’s for his 12th multihit game of the year.
The Indians will call up RHP Kyle Denney from Triple-A Buffalo to make a spot start and his major league debut Tuesday against Detroit at Jacobs Field. … Injured A’s RF Jermaine Dye hit soft toss while wearing a protective plastic sleeve over his severely sprained left thumb. There is still no timeline for his return, though trainer Larry Davis hinted Dye could come back by next weekend. … Westbrook made his 100th major league appearance. … The A’s raised $125,000 for breast cancer research. … Zito is 17-3 in September. It was his 10th double-digit strikeout game.