Gomes' slam helps Griffin earn first big league win

Gomes' slam helps Griffin earn first big league win

Gomes' slam helps Griffin earn first big league win
MINNEAPOLIS -- If ever he had any regrets about shaving his head, Jonny Gomes is done apologizing to himself.

Mohawk-less for the start of post-break play in Minnesota on Friday, Gomes and his new bald 'do circled the bases in style following a fourth-inning grand slam off Twins lefty Francisco Liriano.

The decisive blast to left field, marking the third career slam for Gomes, put the A's on top of both the Twins -- by way of a 6-3 victory -- and the .500 mark, signaling an encouraging start to the second half.

Gomes accounted for the first five Oakland RBIs, his ninth-inning single providing some insurance. Yet after the game, he assured the success he had without hair won't dictate how he chooses to let it grow in the days ahead.

Translation: The Mohawk is making a return.

"We can't get too superstitious about it," he said. "You can't fight time. You can't fight hair growth. It might be a little depressing on people for the growth period ... but a new one is on its way."

So, too, are the A's -- toward contention.

Quietly, they have won seven of their last eight games and 22 of their last 35, most recently wiping away their Friday the 13th blues -- the A's entered the contest 0-4 against the Twins on that day -- and putting the memory of a three-game sweep at the hands of Minnesota in May to rest.

In doing so, Oakland overshadowed an impressive 15-strikeout night by Liriano, who struck out the side twice and fanned eight of the A's starting nine in eight innings of work.

Outside of Gomes' blast, the southpaw surrendered just three other hits -- two of which were tallied by Jemile Weeks, who led off a fateful fourth frame with a base hit. After Josh Reddick struck out, Yoenis Cespedes reached on a dropped fly ball by center fielder Denard Span, and an ensuing Chris Carter walk loaded the bases for Gomes, who turned a first-pitch changeup into his ninth homer of the season.

"A guy like that who's pounding the strike zone, you can't really give in, so you gotta swing and just hope it's a strike, not like the first three pitches I swung at," Gomes said. "You saw the first at-bat -- three pitches, three swings. The second at-bat, one swing and a homer. You just gotta be aggressive off of him.

"How we left the first half and what we talked about to kick off today's game and the second half -- granted, too many strikeouts, but that's what we needed to do, to take advantage of their mistakes and drive in late runs. It started with an error, and then Chris Carter right in front of me had a great at-bat, and it was a great opportunity for me to watch a lot of pitches. He took his walk, passed his torch to me, and I was there to pick him up."

Not to mention A.J. Griffin, who worked six innings of three-run ball to pick up his first Major League victory in front of nine family members. Griffin's father, Tim, is from Grand Rapids, Minn., and his brother, Aaron, played in the local Northwoods League.

The righty allowed eight hits on the night, including two home runs to former Oakland outfielder Josh Willingham, who has 21 long balls on the season, with four coming against the A's.

Yet it was Willingham's third at-bat against Griffin that proved most significant, as he struck out with runners on first and second and two outs in the fifth to end the Twins' threat.

"I guess he was seeing the ball well off me," Griffin said. "I didn't make the best pitches to him, and he didn't miss them. He capitalized on my mistakes, and that's what he's supposed to do. Then [pitching coach] Curt [Young] came out and told me, 'You've got a good curveball. It's below hitting speed. Using that and your fastball, it will keep him off-balance pretty good, and just attack him.'

"I went after him right there, got to 3-2 and just continued to trust in the curveball. That was a huge punchout for sure, kept the momentum in our favor. It was what we needed."

"That was a key at-bat, it really was, I think, for him confidence-wise," manager Bob Melvin said. "It's nice to reward him with the win, because he's pitched better than this and not gotten wins."

Melvin's bullpen trio of Sean Doolittle, Grant Balfour and Ryan Cook combined for three scoreless innings to seal the victory, the first of what the skipper hopes are many in the second half as the A's try to stay over .500.

"That number means you win as many as you lose, and so the goal is to play over that," he said. "When you're below it, certainly it's nice to get to it, but then you have to raise the bar and not settle on .500."

"If you were to take away all those strikeouts, we did exactly what we're trying to do in the second half," Gomes said. "Things are looking up. It's easy to have a plan, but to stick with it and execute the plan is a whole other thing. That's what we did today."

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.