Back To Sea Level: Young A's Reach .500

Oakland A's manager Ken Macha has often stated that a team can't start thinking about the playoffs until they at least reach .500. On May 29, the A's were so far away from the .500 mark that they needed binoculars to see it. Since then, the A's – led by a group of young players – have been the hottest team in baseball. On Tuesday night, it was once again Oakland's youngsters who came through to lead the A's back to .500.

It is almost fitting that the A's final run on Tuesday was driven in by rookie Nick Swisher. It was Swisher, after all, who got the A's started on this hot run when he singled with two-outs and two-strikes in the bottom of the ninth inning, jump-starting a game-tying, two-run rally on May 30. The A's would go on to win that game and they have gone 23-9 in the ensuing battles to bring themselves back from the depths of the American League to the thick of the Wild Card race.

Swisher was a large part of the A's 41st win of the season on Tuesday night in Toronto. He drove in two runs and scored twice in the A's 10-7 extra-inning win over the Blue Jays. After failing to drive in the runner from third with less than two-outs in his first at-bat of the game, Swisher redeemed himself by collecting three hits in his final five at-bats. All three hits went for extra-bases, as Swisher doubled twice and hit a tie-breaking solo homerun. He drove in two and scored twice. Swisher leads American League rookies in homeruns and is hitting .250 with seven homeruns since returning from the disabled list on May 26.

Fellow rookie Dan Johnson also aided the A's in their effort to get back to .500. Shaking off the effects of a sore foot that limited him to DH duty on Tuesday, Johnson launched his third homerun in the past 13 games. Mark Kotsay also hit a solo homerun, his sixth of the season. The A's launched three solo homeruns and four total homers in the game. It was only the second time this season that the A's have hit four homeruns in one game.

As good as the rookies Swisher and Johnson were on Tuesday, it was a pair of second-year players who stole the spotlight. Bobby Crosby, last season's Rookie of the Year, and his former 2003 Sacramento River Cats teammate Justin Duchscherer were the stars of the game. Crosby went 4-6 with a tie-breaking two-run, inside-the-park homerun in the sixth inning and a clutch two-out, two-RBI single to give the A's the lead in the fourth inning. The A's have clearly been a different team since Crosby re-joined the line-up on May 30. The budding superstar has hit .341 with five homers and 19 RBI in 31 games. He has a 969 OPS and he has solidified the A's infield defense up the middle.

Duchscherer has been similarly valuable to the A's pitching staff. The 2003 PCL Pitcher of the Year pitched two scoreless innings on Tuesday night to give the A's a chance to win in 11 innings. Duchscherer was recently named to the All-Star game and his performance on Tuesday night was representative of the type of quality work he has given the team all season. When Duchscherer came on in the 10th inning, the Blue Jays had scored single runs in the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th innings. Yet he was able to silence the talented Blue Jay bats to nail down the win. Duchscherer now has a 1.41 ERA on the season and he has struck out 42 and walked only nine in 44.1 innings. He has limited hitters to a .221 batting average, and has a 1.01 WHIP.

Of course, the A's needed a few contributions from their "old" players to get their 41st win. Kotsay homered and jump-started the game-winning rally in the 11th with a lead-off single. He also made a tremendous play in the bottom of the 11th inning when he deked Russ Adams into thinking that he was going to catch a pop-up, enabling him to force Adams at second when the pop-up fell in. Eric Chavez also had a big game, collecting three hits, including a big hit in the 11th. Scott Hatteberg had arguably the game's biggest hit when he shot a single to right with the bases loaded in the 11th inning, driving in the winning runs.

Youngsters Dan Haren and Huston Street ran into a few speed bumps on Tuesday. Haren, like most of the pitchers who appeared in Tuesday's game, had an inconsistent outing. He allowed four runs in six innings pitched. He allowed two triples and had to work hard to keep the Blue Jays from scoring more than four. It was only the second time since late May that Haren had allowed as many as four runs in a start. He did strike out six, but was often behind in the count. He left the game with the lead, however, although he would eventually be handed a no-decision when Ricardo Rincon allowed a game-tying homerun in the 7th.

Street has been nearly perfect this season and that streak would likely have continued with any good luck on Tuesday. He came on in the bottom of the 8th inning after reliever Kiko Calero had allowed a solo homerun to Gregg Zaun, narrowing the A's lead to one run. Street retired the last two hitters of the 8th inning and the first hitter in the 9th before allowing back-to-back singles. Street then induced Vernon Wells to hit into what appeared to be a game-ending double-play. However, Marco Scutaro's relay throw was wild, allowing the tying run to score. It was Street's first blown save since he took over the closer's role and was a tough-luck blown save, as he didn't allow an earned run.

The A's quest to get over the .500 mark will commence Wednesday evening at the Rogers Centre when rookie Joe Blanton takes on former A's starter Ted Lilly. Blanton, who was named the AL Rookie of the Month for June, will be looking to even his record at 6-6.

Minor League Notes:

-- Seth Etherton continued his strong season at AAA-Sacramento on Tuesday with another solid outing. Etherton allowed only four hits and one run in seven innings in the River Cats' 3-1 win over Colorado Springs. Etherton struck out seven and walked only one. He has a 2.29 ERA for the River Cats in 11 starts this season. Charles Thomas scored twice and stole his sixth base since being sent down to AAA.

-- Daric Barton hit his first AA homerun in only his second game with Midland. He also singled in a run, but it wasn't enough, as the Rockhounds dropped a tight game, 4-3. Omar Quintanilla was Midland's other offensive star. He went 3-3 with his second triple of the year.

-- Kurt Suzuki had a big day at the plate for Stockton in the Ports' 7-6 win over San Jose. Suzuki doubled and tripled and scored three runs. He also drove in two runs. Stockton newcomers Kevin Melillo and Kory Wayment also had big games. Melillo went 2-4 in the lead-off spot and Wayment collected three hits in four at-bats. They also combined to turn a nifty 4-6-3 double play.

-- Nick Blasi's dramatic two-out, three-run bases-loaded double in the bottom of the 9th inning tied the game at 3-3 for the Cougars. New Cougar Luis Perez would finish off the dramatic comeback with a game-winning single in the bottom of the 10th, giving the Cougars a 4-3 win over Peoria. Recently demoted starter Trent Peterson was very effective in his return to Kane County. He allowed only one run in six innings. Javier Herrera had three hits and he stole his 16th and 17th bases of the year.

-- The 10-4 Vancouver Canadians were rained out on Tuesday.

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