Shark, six-run first inning pad A's Wild Card lead

Oakland jumps on Halos' Wilson to earn one-game cushion on KC

Shark, six-run first inning pad A's Wild Card lead

OAKLAND -- If the A's keep winning, as they did with a controlling 8-4 victory over the Angels on Monday night, rather than merely trying to survive, as they had been doing for much of the second half of the season, they'll find themselves in a winner-moves-on Wild Card Game with Jon Lester on their side.

If there's one downside to this otherwise advantageous proposition, it's that Lester would not be available to start Game 1 of the American League Division Series. But Jeff Samardzija would, and, well, that's the next best thing.

Not just because his numbers of late have rivaled Lester's, either.

"Some of the guys that we brought in, they're really relishing the fact that we're in position to hopefully make the playoffs," said manager Bob Melvin, whose club has a one-game lead on the Royals for the top AL Wild Card spot. "It's nice to have those guys that are so hungry for it, and [Samardzija] shows it every time he's on the mound."

These are the intangibles contending clubs thrive on, now and through October, and an excited Samardzija, who was stellar in allowing one unearned run over seven innings against the Halos in his 15th start with the A's following his trade from the lowly Cubs, is riding every bit of these emotions these days, wanting to shoulder each of his teammates along the way.

"This is a new situation for me and something I've been asking for a long time," said Samardzija. "I want to take advantage of it. These opportunities aren't guaranteed, and they don't come around too often, so you don't want to waste them.

"I don't take anything for granted. I learned that earlier in my life, that nothing's free and nothing's for sure. Every chance you get to grab that ball and go out there and take that mound, it means something, no matter what the situation is. If you can get your guys to feel that same way about you, then you're doing your job."

The right-hander has a streak of 23 consecutive innings without an earned run allowed, his last one crossing home plate back on Sept. 5. He's also tossed at least seven innings in each of his last six starts, four of them completed without issuing a single walk, as was the case Monday.

"He's the Shark," said catcher Geovany Soto. "He's coming at you. He's coming for some blood."

His counterpart didn't fare as well.

Angels lefty C.J. Wilson walked four in a six-run first inning, including three in a row, to ensure Samardzija all the run support he needed. Samardzija also got help from his batterymate, with Soto notching a two-run base hit following Wilson's exit after just 35 pitches and two outs. Nick Punto followed with what should've been an inning-ending groundout, but third baseman David Freese's botched throw on the play allowed two more to score.

"It was good to see us take the walks, not try to be too aggressive, which maybe we've been too much of recently, but made him work, throw a lot of pitches," said Melvin. "Next thing you know we put up a six-spot."

Stephen Vogt padded the club's lead in the seventh inning with a two-run single, which prevented the A's from panicking when Albert Pujols hit a three-run homer in the eighth off Evan Scribner.

"It means everything," said Samardzija. "We just put the second one up and I was happy. I felt like, the way I've been throwing, that that was going to be enough. But then to go on and add four more to that and then Vogter add on two more there later in the game, that's what it's all about."

For the A's, this marks just the second time this month and only the third time since mid-August they've won back-to-back games. They haven't won three straight since Aug. 7-9.

"We've been through a lot during this last month and a half, two months, so it's good to see everything starting to come together, everything clicking -- playing great defense, taking great at-bats and pitchers pitching," said Samardzija "That's what you want and I think we're doing it at the right time."

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.