OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)—The Indians swept Oakland at its low point in late May, and now are seeing the Athletics at their best: right back in the playoff chase and poised for another sensational second half.
The A’s own the wild-card lead, and they don’t care. This confident bunch believes it can take down the Angels and win the AL West.
Eric Chavez homered twice and drove in four runs, Barry Zito pitched six strong innings to win his sixth start in a row and Oakland defeated the Indians 13-4 Monday night for its seventh straight victory.
“To me, the wild card is always second until the last couple weeks,” said Chavez, who bounced back from a shaky road trip for a big offensive night. “I still want to hunt down the Angels and try to win the division.”
Mark Ellis hit a two-run double, Scott Hatteberg had a two-run single and scored twice, Dan Johnson and Jason Kendall drove in two runs apiece, and Bobby Kielty added an RBI double as the streaking A’s moved a half-game ahead of idle Minnesota.
They also need one more victory to match their longest winning streak of the season.
Oakland has been known for its second-half surges in recent years and certainly seems headed for another. The team is 10-2 since the All-Star break, the best record in the majors.
“I’m proud of those guys. It’s been a blast watching them play,” manager Ken Macha said.
Zito (9-8) is finally showing the kind of form that earned him the 2002 AL Cy Young award. The lefty went over the .500 mark for first time this year, allowing three runs on five hits. He struck out six and walked three.
He acknowledges this is the most consistent he’s been since 2002, and he’s certainly dressing the part. Kooky as ever, Zito’s postgame outfit featured cutoff camouflage cargo shorts, brown socks pulled up to mid-calf, black indoor soccer shoes and a furry V-neck earth-green button-up sweater with no shirt underneath.
“We’re not settling for any wild card,” Zito said. “We have a lot of great players in this room. If we put it together like we have been, we can come away with the AL West. We’ve got to shoot for the top.”
Keiichi Yabu pitched three innings for his first major league save.
The A’s were a season-high 15 games under .500 on May 29 (17-32) and have gone 37-13 since—the best record in baseball over that span.
Meanwhile, Sabathia (6-8) lost his fourth straight start and was done after just 2 1-3 innings—his shortest outing since June 26, 2004, when he pitched one inning against Colorado. He was tagged for eight runs and eight hits and didn’t have a strikeout.
“Right now, I don’t know what’s a good pitch or a bad pitch,” Sabathia said. “I tried to go in and out and I wasn’t happy with anything I threw.”
The A’s looked just as good against his replacement, Rafael Betancourt. He immediately gave up an RBI single by Johnson, then Kendall grounded into a fielder’s choice to bring home another run and make it 8-0.
Chavez connected for his 16th homer leading off the second, sending a 3-2 pitch over the wall in right-center. Johnson added an RBI single five batters later and Kendall followed by singling in a run for his 500th career RBI.
“They found his weaknesses early,” Indians manager Eric Wedge said. “They’re a disciplined group of hitters and they really got it going.”
Chavez hit a two-run homer in the fourth to almost the same spot in right for his 13th career multihomer game and second of the season. He also hit two June 12 at Atlanta. Chavez singled in a run in the fifth as the A’s batted around for the second time. He then got the rest of the night off.
After Sizemore’s fifth-inning single, the crowd began chanting “Zito! Zito!” and he struck out Coco Crisp to end the inning with runners on first and second.
Every Oakland starter scored a run and everyone had a hit but Jay Payton.
Johnson was the DH and batted ninth, and so did Indians DH Jason Dubois — the first time in major league history both teams’ designated hitters were in the last spot in the batting order. … Ellis has a nine-game hitting streak. … The Indians expect to make a decision Tuesday on whether to place DH Travis Hafner on the disabled list. He missed his ninth straight game Monday with a concussion. … A’s CF Mark Kotsay was held out of the lineup with a stiff back caused from the long flight home. … New Oakland owner Lewis Wolff watched batting practice on the field as his two grandsons chased autographs. Wolff bought the A’s at the end of spring training and has been impressed with their recent turnaround—he monitors the games he can’t attend on his computer. … Interest in the A’s is increasing. Of the 19,242 on hand Monday, an estimated 9,000 were walk-ups.