Griffin moves A's to within three games of Rangers

Griffin moves A's to within three games of Rangers

Griffin moves A's to within three games of Rangers
OAKLAND -- A.J. Griffin is a self-proclaimed perfectionist, and on Saturday night, he was on his way to living up to that title on the mound.

The right-hander, who came off the disabled list in the second of a three-game set against the visiting Red Sox, carried a perfect game into the fifth inning. Two outs later, Boston posted its first hit -- on a bunt single.

Holding a five-run lead, the A's shifted their defense toward the right side of the infield, and it was Jarrod Saltalamacchia who placed a first-pitch bunt down the third-base line, with the unpopular decision drawing plenty of boos from Oakland's faithful.

"You know what? I know it's unpopular, but he's trying to get on base," manager Bob Melvin said. "I should have probably had a third baseman there."

Saltalamacchia was off the hook in the sixth, though, thanks to a clean base hit from Ryan Lavarnway. But even with one run captured in the inning, the Red Sox remained at a distance from the seemingly unstoppable A's, who claimed their eighth consecutive victory with a 7-1 win while moving three games back of the first-place Rangers for the first time since April 14.

Saturday's victory, coming on the heels of Friday's 20-2 thumping, also spaced the A's a season-high 18 games over the .500 mark. Exactly two months ago, they stood four below it.

Boston fans figure to be enviable of such a turnaround, as they watch their own club fall further out of contention with each passing day. Frustration is running rampant in the Red Sox's clubhouse and is perhaps no more visible than through the eyes and words of its manager.

Bobby Valentine, responding to Saltalamacchia's decision to bunt to break up Griffin's perfecto, simply threw out a "Who cares?" to reporters. Across the way in the A's clubhouse, there was a much cheerier environment, minus the news circulating around Brandon Inge, whose season appears done after he aggravated his right shoulder just minutes before collecting a two-run double in the third.

"That just goes to show you how tough he is," Brandon Hicks said.

Such strength resembles that of the entire A's team.

Their improbable run, defined by a 38-15 ledger since the start of July, has been traced by an abundance of feel-good story lines, and Griffin, who began his season at Double-A Midland, has quietly become one of them.

The 24-year-old, making just his ninth big league start and first since Aug. 4 after suffering a shoulder injury, continued the dominant trend he created well before the setback, allowing just one run on three hits with no walks and five strikeouts through seven innings.

"I just wanted to go out there and try to pick up where I left off," Griffin said. "I just went out there and did what I always do -- pound the strike zone, try to get ahead of guys, let my teammates make some plays."

Griffin has yet to allow more than three runs in a game, and seven times he's surrendered two or fewer, making it all too clear why the A's chose him to fill in the rotation spot vacated by the suspended Bartolo Colon.

"The command is what we've always seen," Melvin said. "He was a guy we targeted to pitch first after the break because his mechanics are so good, his rhythm is so good, his timing is really good, and everything we saw before he left and went on the DL we saw again tonight."

The young hurler is the first pitcher in Oakland history to start his career 4-0 with all of his outings coming as a starter. He was welcomed back with a bevy of run support from his teammates, who jumped on Boston lefty Felix Doubront for five runs in just three innings.

Channeling the good vibes from the previous night's offensive slaughter, the A's started right where they left off, getting a leadoff home run from Coco Crisp, who would finish the night a triple shy of the cycle.

Four more runs were plated in the third, half of which came on Inge's two-run double. Derek Norris tallied his second RBI hit of the night in the fifth for Oakland's sixth run, and Chris Carter extended the club's lead in the seventh by way of a solo shot -- his 13th home run in 49 games -- off Sox reliever Daniel Bard.

Through their eight-game win streak, the A's have plated 66 runs, having needed their first 23 games of the season to score that many.

"It's great," Melvin said. "For a good portion of the season we were struggling, and now we're a completely different team offensively. There's a lot of confidence throughout the lineup. It's everyone that's contributing, and that creates a really nice feel within the clubhouse."

Jane Lee is a reporter for 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.