Oakland shows staying power with win over Rays

Oakland shows staying power with win over Rays

Oakland shows staying power with win over Rays
ST. PETERSBURG -- In claiming Saturday's 4-2 win against the host Rays, the A's also secured for themselves the season series over Tampa Bay.

Bragging rights aren't the only thing that could be gained by this development. No, a lot more was at stake at the start of the day, as the A's will now have homefield advantage against the Rays should the two teams end the season tied outright for the two American League Wild Card spots.

With their second straight win Saturday in the matinee finale, the A's moved within half a game of the Rays for the top spot in the Wild Card standings, their next venture -- following Sunday's off-day -- a four-game set in Cleveland, before they embark on what should be a challenging September.

Twice, the A's will face division foes Texas and Los Angeles -- once on the road, once at home, with a four-game road series against the Rangers concluding a 10-game swing that will begin in Detroit and New York.

"These guys were ahead of us, so to get them was obviously a big series for us, and to go into Cleveland with a good start on this road trip, we just gotta keep doing it throughout September," Josh Reddick said. "We know it's going to be a tough month with a lot of travel, but we're going to grind through it and keep going."

For now, Oakland's focus on the present remains intact, and why shouldn't it? Much fun is being had by the A's, who shook off a shutout Thursday to snag the final two contests and move 12 games over .500 for the first time since finishing the 2006 season 93-69. They've won eight of their past 10 and 32 of 47 since the start of July.

"We've shown a propensity to come back after a game like that and play well, and this isn't the easiest place to play," manager Bob Melvin said. "They were playing really well and continue to play really well, and it ended up being a real nice series for us."

Melvin's club got right to it against Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson, tagging the righty for three runs in a 41-pitch first inning, highlighted by a towering two-run shot to left field off the bat of Chris Carter, his 11th in 44 games with the A's.

Right-hander Brandon McCarthy also looked out of sorts from the start, walking two in the first and loading the bases with no outs in the second, leading to Jose Lobaton's sacrifice fly that narrowed Oakland's lead to two.

But McCarthy settled down thereafter, retiring each of the next nine batters, while Seth Smith gave him back the run courtesy of his 12th home run, a solo shot to lead off the third.

McCarthy allowed just two hits -- including Desmond Jennings' solo homer in the fifth -- in his final five frames of a seven-inning effort, one that included seven strikeouts. The righty was in need of such a performance, having suffered his worst outing of the season just five days prior, when he allowed the Twins six runs and 10 hits in just 3 1/3 innings.

That "here we go again" feeling was felt in the first by McCarthy, who endured a tiring go at it while "just trying to make adjustments all day."

"I worked on some things this week and worked on my arm slot to try to get back to where I needed to be," McCarthy said. "It was just too high the other day. All of the things I was feeling mechanically were kind of the cause of the arm getting too high. [Pitching coach] Curt [Young] noticed it right away and I even had friends message me telling me it was higher too, so I just kinda put it back to where it's supposed to be and get it back down. It takes some work to kind of relearn that spot, but I was able to kind of get there today.

"It's mentally tough when you're not clicking on all cylinders and not mentally where you want to be. Every pitch has to be a focus, to make sure it's executed, which is exhausting in that regard, but at least I was able to become myself again and throw strikes."

The A's couldn't have asked for much more.

"I thought that was quite the recovery for him, especially with the way he pitched last time," Melvin said. "He was a little out of sync and it kind of had that feeling early on that he didn't have his mechanics to the point where he knew where the ball was going all the time like we're used to seeing. Then, all of a sudden, he found it."

And the Rays took notice.

"I know his last several outings, he's been hit a little bit," Tampa Bay manager Joe Madden said. "But he's got our swing-path number. It's incredible, he misses our bats."

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.