In a pennant race, you need to bring your best every day.
It’s a lesson the Cleveland Indians likely knew before Sunday, but relearned the importance of the lesson when Scott Kazmir was not sharp in his return to the mound. The Indians couldn’t quite take advantage of spot starter Tommy Milone the way Oakland did Kazmir and Josh Donaldson made the Tribe pay each time runners were on base. The Athletics were able to win the series finale, 7-3.
The loss for Cleveland cost them a game in both the divisional and wild card races.
Oakland took a quick lead in the bottom of the first inning, appearing to take advantage of a rusty Kazmir. Jed Lowrie singled to center field to start the Oakland offense. Derek Norris then doubled to left field to put runners on second and third with no one out. Donaldson grounded to shortstop, getting Lowrie in from third base and giving the Athletics a 1-0 lead.
Cleveland began the battle to scratch back into the game in the top of the second inning. Ryan Raburn jacked a solo home run to deep center field for his 15th homer of the season. Raburn’s blast cut the deficit to 2-1.
Oakland came right back in the bottom half of the second inning when they rallied with two outs. After Kazmir retired the first two hitters, Lowrie doubled to deep right center field and Norris walked before Donaldson singled, driving home a run and extending the lead to 3-1.
After scoreless innings by Kazmir in the third and fourth innings, the Indians were able to tie the game in the top of the fifth inning. Drew Stubbs was safe at first and advanced to second when Alberto Callaspo’s throw from third base was wild. Nick Swisher grounded out to second to move Stubbs to third with two outs.
Jason Kipnis singled to left field for a key two-out base hit to plate Stubbs. Kipnis then stole second base with a good jump on Milone and hustled home when Carlos Santana doubled to the left field wall. When Kipnis scored the Indians had tied the game at three.
That ended Milone’s day after just four and two-third innings, allowing three runs—just one earned—on six hits and a walk while striking out five. Dan Otero took over, getting the final out and working a scoreless sixth inning for the Athletics.
The Athletics answered right back in the bottom of the fifth inning, with a pair of solo home runs. Young first homered to the left field seats above the high wall for his 11th home run of the season. After Kazmir retired Josh Reddick, Callaspo snuck his sixth homer down the left field line. Indians left fielder, Michael Brantley narrowly missed robbing him of the shot. Regardless, the Athletics took a 5-3 lead.
Kazmir finished the inning, but his day was done after five frames, allowing five runs on 10 hits and two walks. The left-hander had nine days off to recover from what he described as, “a dead arm.” Today, he appeared to not be as sharp as in previous starts.
The Tribe tried to muster a rally in the top of the eighth inning when Asdrubal Cabrera singled to left field with two outs. Brantley scorched a ball to center field that Young made a leaping catch to snag. Had the ball got past him, Cabrera would have scored all the way from first base.
Oakland earned an unearned run in the eighth inning. Callaspo singled to start the inning. Eric Sogard sacrificed him to second and Rzepczynski was removed for Bryan Shaw. Shaw struck out Lowrie for the second out and appeared to end the inning when he got Norris to ground to shortstop. Cabrera’s throw was on target, but Swisher did not make the catch. When the ball got by him, Callaspo scored from second. Donaldson then made the Indians pay for a third time with a base hit up the middle to score Norris and make it 7-3.
Grant Balfour worked the top of the ninth inning for Oakland to close out the win. The win for Oakland gives them the series win and a key victory in the wild card race. Their win keeps them just a half game behind Tampa Bay for the top wild card spot and a game behind the Texas Rangers for the divisional lead.
Cleveland drops to seven games back in the division and four games back in the wild card.
The Indians down the California coast for a three game series with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim beginning tomorrow evening. Danny Salazar (1-1, 4.08) will make his fourth start of the season for the Tribe. He’ll face Angels’ ace Jered Weaver (7-6, 3.49).
Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo