Brandon Moss homered in the first inning the last time he faced Yu Darvish, a two-run shot that led to what would become an 11-4 A’s win back on Sept. 4.
So perhaps it should have been no surprise that when Moss faced the Rangers’ ace in the first inning Saturday, he’d unload with a run-scoring double.
The difference this time was that there would be no scoring on either side, and the A’s would claim a 1-0 win that would move Oakland to 5½ games in front of Texas in the American League West. The A’s magic number to win the West — any combination of 10 A’s wins or Rangers losses would give Oakland the title.
It never occurred to Moss that his hit would produce the game’s only run.
“Obviously you always hope to score more,’’ Moss said. “But this was the best I’ve ever seen Darvish. Usually we’ll see him get into a pattern, but today he threw a lot different.’’
To a man, the A’s were impressed with Darvish, who has been the Major League’s hard-luck pitcher of the year. Saturday’s loss was his fourth 1-0 loss of the season, three of them coming in hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark and two of them coming at the hands of the A’s.
“I feel like I’m a pretty good breaking ball hitter,’’ Josh Donaldson said. He had one of the four hits off Darvish. “But he makes me feel like I’m not.’’
While Darvish pitched well, he didn’t get any support … again. He’s the first pitcher since Orel Hershiser in 1989 to lost 1-0 four times in a season.
“I can’t control it. I can’t do anything about it,’’ Darvish said through an interpreter. “The only thing I can concentrate on is the batter in front of me. As a pitcher, you can’t control how many runs are score. Am I going to go into the lineup and help the lineup?
–The Rangers came into this series knowing they had to win at least two or maybe even sweep to get themselves back in the thick of the American League West race.
They haven’t done it, losing the first two games, and it was quiet indeed in the Texas clubhouse.
“This is the team we needed to beat,’’ third baseman Adrian Beltre said. “We haven’t been good enough to do that.’’
Things are bleak for the Rangers. Other than the A’s last year when they ran down the Rangers, there have only been two other teams to have overcome deficits of five games or more with 15 or fewer games to play since 1969, the 2007 Phillies and the 2001 Cardinals. The Rangers are 5½ back with 15 games left.
“This has put us in second place; that’s about it,’’ Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “We’ve still got games left to play. We’re going to continue to play.’’
–Grant Balfour made manager Bob Melvin’s strategizing pay off Saturday when he threw a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his 38th save, closing out the 1-0 win for starter Bartolo Colon.
The manager sat with the closer to explain why he hadn’t used him in a one-run game Friday. Melvin said the Rangers’ lineup at the time was ideally set up for lefty Sean Doolittle and that if he used Balfour on Friday, he wouldn’t have him available for Saturday.
And with the A’s clinging to a 1-0 lead, Melvin needed Balfour to take the club home against the second-place Rangers.
“It worked out,’’ Balfour said after dominating the Rangers, a team against whom he is 4-for-4 in saves this year. “Whether its 11-10 or 5-4 or 1-0, it’s still a one-run game, and I’ve got to get the job done.’’
Balfour has done that the vast majority of the time this year, with 38 saves in 40 chances. But before Saturday he was in a seven-game stretch in which he’d allowed six earned runs in 6-2 innings.
There was none of that Saturday. He did issue a two-out walk to Mitch Moreland, but he came right back to slip a called third strike past pinch-hitter David Murphy.
Balfour was fine talking about himself. More than once, however, he steered the conversation back to starter Bartolo Colon, the 40-year-old who threw eight scoreless innings.
“Bartolo threw a great game,’’ he said. “It was just up to me to finish what he started. All credit has to go to Bartolo.’’