OAKLAND – If you let your thoughts wander during the TampaBay Rays-A’s game Friday night, it would have been easy to convince yourself that you were getting a glimpse into the future.
Both teams still entertain visions of winning their respective divisions. For now, they are the two teams currently in possession of the wild-card playoff spots in the American League.
The A’s beat the Rays 4-3 on Friday and moved one-half game ahead of them in the wild-card standings, not to mention within two games of the Texas Rangers in the American League West.
Catcher Kurt Suzuki and shortstop Jed Lowrie delivered the big hits, with Suzuki erasing a 1-0 deficit with a three-run home run and Lowrie breaking a 3-3 tie.
Suzuki was traded to the A’s by the Washington Nationals on Aug. 23, just as the A’s departed for a seven-game road trip. He played at the Coliseum on Friday for the first time since the trade.
“You couldn’t write that,” A’s starting pitcher Parker said of Suzuki’s timely blast. “You couldn’t make that stuff up.”
Who says you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression?
“It was pretty special,” Suzuki said. “That felt really good. For it to be off a pitcher like (David) Price, who’s arguably one of the best pitchers in the game right now, is pretty neat.”
As usual, the A’s kept things in perspective and their focus on the playoff race.
There’s a sizable margin between the A’s and Rays and the teams chasing them for the two wild-card berths.
Therefore, it isn’t difficult to envision these teams holding on and playing an even more meaningful game in October, with the winner advancing.
Seeing Parker and Price on the mound further validated the feeling that this three-game series merely is a prelude.
Price is the reigning American League Cy Young winner and Parker on Friday increased his streak to 17 straight starts without a loss, including a 4-0 mark in six August games.
Price and Parker delivered the kind of game commensurate with their resumes in what A’s manager Bob Melvin called “one of those marquee matchups as far starting pitchers go.”
The two aces engaged in a well-pitched game from the outset, with Parker allowing a two-out, run-scoring RBI single in the second for his lone blemish through five innings.
The A’s managed only two hits off Price through the first four innings. It seemed as if they were going to need some unlikely occurrences to break through against Price.
Sure enough, that’s what happened.
In the fifth, Alberto Callaspo reached base on a throwing error by Ben Zobrist, who entered the game with an 81-game errorless streak, a Rays record for second basemen.
Chris Young followed with a walk despite being hitless against the Rays all season and batting under .200.
Then came the capper, with Suzuki smashing Price’s first pitch of the at-bat over the left-field wall for a game-altering home run.
“Suzuki’s hit was huge because it didn’t look like we were going to be able to string too many hits together against Price,” Melvin said.
However, it wasn’t enough to ensure victory as the Rays rallied for two runs in the eighth to tie the game. For that, the A’s needed Lowrie and Grant Balfour.
Lowrie delivered a one-out, RBI double in the bottom of the eighth that broke a 3-3 tie. He also made a nifty grab on an errant throw by first baseman Daric Barton in the ninth that turned a potential disaster into a force out at second.
“Sometimes you got to make plays like that to win games,” Lowrie said.
Balfour closed out the game for his 34th save of the season. It came one day after he allowed four runs to the Detroit Tigers in the ninth and blew a save opportunity for only the second time this season.
“His stuff was really good tonight,” Melvin said. “Admittedly, he didn’t have his best stuff (Thursday) but he was on it tonight. His velocity was up, you could see the intensity, and he was throwing the ball where he wanted to. All the stuff he does well when he shuts it down.”
– Parker last lost May 22, against the Rangers. That was 86 games ago.
His string of 17 starts without a loss is tied with Jim “Catfish” Hunter (1973) for the most in Oakland history.
– Right fielder Josh Reddick had a cortisone injection in his right wrist Wednesday, Melvin said.
Reddick is eligible to return from the disabled list Sept. 10. Melvin said he is hopeful that the shot is enough to get Reddick past his second stint on the disabled list this season.
“It certainly did the trick for Coco, so maybe that does the trick for him,” Melvin said in reference to center fielder Coco Crisp’s injured wrist responding well to a cortisone shot earlier this season.
– Speaking of Crisp, Melvin said it’s no coincidence that the A’s offense performed well during a seven-game road trip that ended Thursday during a time when Crisp batted .345 (10 for 29).
“We get a lot of our moxie from him,” Melvin said of Crisp. “I’ve said often that he’s our engine”
Crisp started Oakland’s game-winning rally with a lead-off single, and he advanced to second because he was running before the pitch on a grounder to short.
– Catcher Derek Norris (broken toe) is slated to begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Sacramento on Saturday, Melvin said. Norris is eligible to come off the disabled list Thursday.