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Colon keeps rolling as A's edge Pirates

The SportsXchange

PITTSBURGH -- Bartolo Colon won a tense duel between two pitchers headed to next week's All-Star Game. And he had some help from Coco Crisp and Grant Balfour.

Colon got the better of Jeff Locke -- just barely -- as the American League West-leading Oakland Athletics edged the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-1 Monday night at PNC Park.

Colon (12-3) won for the ninth time in his last 10 starts, allowing one run and seven hits in seven innings. He struck out five and walked one.

Colon had an eight-game winning streak halted in his last start, when he lost to the Chicago Cubs on July 3. He has a 1.48 ERA over his past 10 starts.

"I've never pitched better than this year," the 40-year-old Colon said through translator Ariel Prieto. "This has been my best season. Not just because of the way I've pitched but because of the team we have. We have a good team and a good group of guys."

Colon was aided by Crisp, the center fielder, who robbed Andrew McCutchen of extra bases with a diving catch in the left-center-field gap to end the seventh inning. At the time, the Athletics held a 2-1 lead and the Pirates had runners on first and second.

"The game was decided right there, to tell you the truth," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. "There was more game to be played after that, but if it gets by him, that's the game. When he hit it, I didn't think Coco had a chance. I've been around Coco enough to know he can run down some balls, but that was the play of the year right there."

Crisp wasn't so impressed by his grab, and neither was McCutchen, also a speedy center fielder with defensive chops.

"It was the play of, I don't know, the play of that play," Crisp said. "Cutchie hit the ball well, and I was just able to make the play. That's it."

McCutchen said, "Right when I hit it, I knew he was going to catch it. It's Coco Crisp and he's fast. I told myself, I'm catching that ball, too, if I'm out there playing."

That turned out to be Colon's last batter. After Ryan Cook worked a scoreless eighth, Balfour made history by pitching a 1-2-3 ninth for the save.

It was the 41st consecutive save converted by Balfour over the past two seasons, breaking the Athletics record set by Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley from 1991-92. Balfour is a perfect 23-for-23 this season.

"I'm very happy to hold a record that held on for so long, but I also tell myself there's a season going on here," Balfour said. "I want to keep winning. We've got some good things going on here, and I want us to make this a special season. It does mean something, though, because Eckersley was a great pitcher, a great A, and I really respect what he did in his career."

Locke (8-2) saw his streak of 16 consecutive starts without a loss -- a Pirates single-season record -- end despite giving up only two runs and three hits in seven innings. He struck out four and walked three. It was Locke's first loss since April 7, when he made his season debut against the Dodgers at Los Angeles.

"I limited the hits, got some good plays behind me, as usual -- that's something I can always count on with those guys," Locke said. "Really, I wouldn't change anything about it. Everything I did, I'd take it out there the next start. You're going to lose a game eventually."

The Pirates outhit the Athletics 9-3, but Oakland was able to scratch out a pair of runs against Locke.

Jed Lowrie had two of the Athletics' hits. Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez and Clint Barmes had two hits each for Pittsburgh.

The Athletics scored the game's first run in the fourth inning. Lowrie hit a one-out double for Oakland's first hit, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on Josh Donaldson's sacrifice fly.

Oakland made it 2-0 in the seventh as Locke issued back-to-back walks with two outs, the second to Derek Norris with the bases loaded to force in a run.

The Pirates got their run in the seventh when Tabata's two-out infield single plated Barmes, who had doubled.

Oakland improved to 10-0 all-time against Pittsburgh while winning for the ninth time in its last 12 games.

The Pirates have lost five of seven since a nine-game winning streak, and they fell into second place in the National League Central, a half-game game behind the idle St. Louis Cardinals.

Pittsburgh left fielder Starling Marte's 12-game hitting streak was snapped, as he went 0-for-5. He flied out to the warning track in deep left field in the ninth inning in his final at-bat.

NOTES: Oakland purchased the contract of 2B Grant Green from Triple-A Sacramento before the game, and he was in the starting lineup batting eighth in his major league debut. He went 0-for-3. The Athletics cleared a spot on the 25- and 40-man rosters spot for Green, their first-round draft pick in 2009, by designating INF Adam Rosales for assignment. ... Pittsburgh 2B Neil Walker missed his second straight game because of a strained right oblique muscle. He was originally scheduled to have an MRI on Monday, but the Pirates decided to wait for a few days to see how quickly the muscle heals. INF/OF Brandon Inge started in Walker's place again, and he finished 0-for-3. ... A pair of rookies will square off Tuesday night as Oakland RHP Dan Straily (5-2, 4.52 ERA) faces Pittsburgh RHP Gerrit Cole (4-1, 3.94 ERA). Straily has won four consecutive decisions, and Cole had won four straight until suffering his first career loss July 4 against Philadelphia.
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