In the middle of a tight pennant race there’s a tendency to look at the things that should be better than they are.
The things that are better than they should be can get glossed over.
That brings us to the A’s, who, it is true, have been struggling to score runs. And that’s an issue.
Equally a part of the equation, however, is just how difficult Oakland pitchers are at making it difficult for other teams to score.
Eric O’Flaherty, Ryan Cook, Luke Gregerson and Sean Doolittle combined to throw 3.1 perfect innings in relief of winning pitcher Jason Hammel Tuesday.
It’s just part of a bigger picture.
The A’s relievers have not allowed a run in 21.2 innings. That’s a streak that dates back to July 28, and it’s a period in which not only have the A’s relievers not allowed a run, but they haven’t allowed any of the seven runners they’ve inherited to score, either.
Oakland has six consecutive save chances converted dating back to July 3.
“We knew at some point we’re really going to have to rely on these guys,’’ Melvin said of his relief corps. “We’d been scoring a bunch of runs, double digit runs for a time there, but you knew at some point in time you’re not going to score 10 runs every game, and the bullpen is going to come into play.’’
It did Tuesday, again. Hammel had thrown shutout ball for 5.2 innings, but he’d put 11 men on base. The relievers came in and Tampa Bay didn’t see another base runners.
“O’Flaherty gets a big out,’’ Melvin said. “Cook’s been absolutely fantastic for us here recently, then Gregerson and Doolittle finish it up.’’
Doolittle now has 17 saves and has eight consecutive scoreless games (8.1 innings). That’s nothing compared to Cook, who hasn’t allowed a run in his last 18 games, a total of 17.2 innings pitched, in the process lowering his ERA from 4.58 when he last gave up a run on June 22 to its current 2.41.
He was a little more spectacular than usual Friday, throwing just five pitches – a three-pitch strikeout, then two first-pitch outs.
“That’s pretty impressive,’’ Doolittle said of Cook. “I know Cookie loves getting the punchouts, but if he can the drop down in five pitches and put up a zero, we’ll take that every time out.’’
Melvin is somewhat in awe of cook, who spent the first two months of the season dealing with shoulder pain but who is as together as he’s been since he was an All-Star in 2012.
“He’s as efficient as you could be, including a strikeout,’’ Melvin said. “His velocity is back. You can just see this is a guy pitching with a lot more confidence since he had his injury and is going to back to where he was when he was an All-Star.’’
Cook isn’t alone. Gregerson hasn’t allowed a run in 14 games (13 innings) since June 26. Fernando Abad has allowed just four runs in his last 31 games. And Dan Otero, the last A’s reliever to give up a run, has the most wins (seven) and second-most innings (64) among all AL relievers.