Back we went to O.co this weekend for a Saturday night outing against Terry Francona and the Cleveland Indians. For the A’s, the situation in the AL west is getting more serious all the time, because the front-running Texas Rangers are rolling and showing no signs of letting up:

AL west GB

Texas           70-52           –
Oakland        69-52          .5

Cleveland, predictably, is also doing good work in the AL central with Fancona taking over and overseeing a roster that combines a lot of great young talent with a few savvy veterans.  The Indians came into the Saturday night contest with a record of 65-57, good for second place in the division, six games back of first-place Detroit.

With Oakland winning a tight one on Friday night by a score of 3-2, the Indians looked to even up the series. The A’s had one eye on the Rangers’ game in Seattle with King Felix going for the Mariners so it was reasonable to think that they would get some help, but it turned out not to be.

PITCHING MATCHUP: Ubaldo Jimenez, 8-7, 4.11 ERA, 1.467 WHIP vs. Dan Straily, 6-6, 4.19 ERA, 1.220 WHIP

It was a sold-out crowd on Yoenis Cespedes bobblehead night and, because the Ringling Brothers Circus was going on at Oracle Arena in the same complex, the A’s opened the gates to O.co at 2:30 PM for the 6:05PM game to get the large crowd in early and out of the way of the other event. That was interesting to say the least. Good for all of us who received our bobbleheads between 2:30 and 3:00. The bad news was that, once inside the stadium, there was a huge block of time, somewhere around three hours, before the game started. If I was younger and had more money, I could have easily gotten drunk and got thrown out before the game even started. That’s not an option these days, thankfully, we’re almost all grown up now. So with all that time before gametime, it was kind of a grind, even with both teams taking batting practice on the field for most of that time.

Swisher's homer swing in the top of the first

The Tribe featured two very prominent former-A’s in their lineup in Nick Swisher and Jason Giambi. The reaction for both was mixed but the boos were very noticeable. Swisher got everyone’s attention in short order as he took Straily deep, very deep, over the right field wall for a one-out homer in the top of the first. Straily labored in that first inning, throwing a lot of pitches and giving up two runs to put the A’s in a hole.

As fate would have it, Giambi made it to the plate in that long inning, batting sixth in the Indians order. He would make the crowd a little happier, as he struck out swinging to end the frame after two walks, a single and the Swisher homer brought in the two Cleveland runs.

Giambi swinging at strike 3

Strike 3 on Giambi in the top of the first

Staked to a 2-0 lead, the mercurial Jimenez showed his many sides as he didn’t allow a hit to the Athletics until the sixth inning, but was repeatedly in trouble due to walks and an HBP. He started clean, putting the first six A’s he faced down in order with three strikeouts. But a leadoff walk to OF Seth Smith in the bottom of the third signaled a shaky outing the rest of the way. Two walks in the third, another walk in the fourth and one more in the fifth all went unpunished as the Indians led 3-0 heading to the bottom of the sixth.

That’s when the A’s broke through for their first hit and, because of the charity of Jimenez, it cashed in a run. OF Josh Reddick was hit by a pitch with one out and Jimenez then walked Cespedes to place runners on first and second with one out. “Good Ubaldo” reappeared as Brandon Moss was put down on strikes for the second out.

The next batter, 3B Josh Donaldson, came through for an RBI single to plate an Oakland run and chase Jimenez from the game after 105 pitches, 58 for strikes. The score was 3-1 at the time and the A’s would get no closer.

Rich Hill came on to strike out Chris Young and end the threat. Three more Cleveland relievers would follow and do what a trio of Oakland relievers proved unable to do, keep any more runs off the board. Jerry Blevins, Jesse Chavez and Pat Neshek followed Straily, who left after 5 2/3 innings and 103 pitches. It was a tough night for Straily, who gave up three earned runs, but Blevins and Chavez had it just as bad, giving up four more runs.

The final score was 7-1 in favor of Cleveland, who evened up the series to set up the rubber match on Sunday. The damage for the A’s got worse as the Rangers roughed up Felix Hernandez to win their game by a score of 15-3 to pull ahead by 1 1/2 games in the division. Cleveland, meanwhile, negated a walk-off win by Detroit to stay six games back in the central.

Swisher rounds third after his first-inning bomb

It was yet another great night at O.co. The house was packed and ready to go off at any instant, but the Swisher homer dampened the mood from the outset and the A’s never did anything to get the crowd into it until the sixth inning. The atmosphere was lively leading up to the first pitch with a large group that had received a pretty premium giveaway. Pennant race baseball was on the docket and everybody in the stadium knew it and was ready for a good battle.

But Cleveland got that first-inning offense, starting almost immediately with the Swisher homer, and it was a laborious inning by Straily that seemed to take forever. Then, Jimenez, for all his erratic tendencies, was an efficient out machine over the first two frames. Six up, six down, low pitch count, nothing for the home crowd to get excited about.

Francona had to call on four different relievers, but they got the job done as they secured Jimenez’ ninth win and helped the Indians keep pace with the division-leading Tigers and gain a game on the Royals, who Detroit beat with Miguel Cabrera’s walk-off, ninth-inning home run.

As stated previously, O.co is a hugely underrated ballpark experience. They did have some small crowds, around 15,000, for Houston during the week and even a mere 17,491 on Friday night for the opener of this series. But when it is full like it was for tonight’s sellout game, there is energy there that every fan can appreciate and when the club is getting the better of it and Sean Doolittle and Grant Balfour are bursting onto the scene to close down a win…..it’s insane. Still a few more visits ahead for us this season as the AL west is contested.

Donaldson playing in
All Photos: Steve Cummings/HotStoveHeat.com