Inside Pitch: Winning Over The Long Haul

With each victory, the Oakland Athletics become more and more of a darling for the national media. It's not that manager Ken Macha is avoiding using the "p" word (playoffs); it's just that he doesn't want to get caught up in the rollercoaster ride of going from having the third-worst record in baseball to a lead for the wild card after play on July 25.

"You try to stay on that even keel," Macha said. "Everybody was a dumbass in May, and now everyone's a genius. Forget that. I'm staying right here, OK. That's the way you try to treat it. If they want to ride the peaks and valleys, they can go right ahead and do that. In May, the effort was there. We were shorthanded."

In May, the A's endured a 4-20 stretch as injuries decimated the team. They were 15 games under .500 entering play May 30, the day shortstop Bobby Crosby returned to the lineup.

"If there would've been panic there, we could've lost the club," Macha said. "There could've been a lot of negative things come out of that."

What did Macha learn from the month of May?

"You have to be patient," Macha said. "You have to continue to be positive. Pat guys on the back. Can't panic."

In 2001, the A's also had a terrible start. They were 8-18 after April and still just 35-40 after June 26. But that team went 67-20 the rest of the season to win the wild card at 102 games.

It can be done, rallying back to the playoffs after a terrible start.

"But we got a long way to go," Macha said. "We gotta continue to play hard and play solid baseball. We've been playing with a fever pitch for a long time, and it's hard to do that. Can we do it? We've got a chance. But it's tough."

Reliving "The Tag"

In a ballpark where the A's are used to playing unusual games, Friday's ending might have been the most unusual they've ever had.

In the ninth inning against Texas, with the tying run at third and two outs, after seeing leads of 8-3 and 11-6 shrink to 11-10, catcher Jason Kendall fielded with his bare hand a pitch that bounced off the plate and away from him.

Instead of shuffling the ball to pitcher Justin Duchscherer, he took two strides to the plate and dove head first with the ball in his bare hand and protected inside his glove.

Kendall's hands and face arrived at the corner of the plate fractions of a second ahead of baserunner Michael Young's cleats. Kendall hung onto the ball, showed the umpire, and another legendary game in this ballpark between these teams was in the win column.

"Fortunately, it didn't bounce too far away," Kendall said. "It wasn't far enough to toss it. A lot can go wrong."

Fitting for his personality, Kendall would later add, "I should have blocked it."

The A's dugout, and the pitchers in the clubhouse, erupted with jubilation and mobbed Kendall.

"I still can't believe it," starting pitcher Dan Haren said. "That's better than a walk-off home run. That might never happen again in my life."

Nobody in the A's clubhouse could recall seeing a game end that way.

"It was an awesome play," rookie first baseman Dan Johnson said. "He put his career on the line. He was face first out there, diving to make that play. It shows you the heart this team has."

The Numbers Of Success

--RHP Dan Haren earned the victory Friday despite giving up six runs (five earned) in 5 1/3 innings. Haren has won seven straight decisions to go to 8-7 and the A's have won each of his last 11 starts.

--RHP Justin Duchscherer was credited with a save Friday, his fifth, despite an ugly ninth inning. He allowed a bloop single, walk and double, before getting two outs the conventional way and the final out on the amazing head-first diving tag of catcher Jason Kendall at the plate to end it.

--RHP Jay Witasick earned his first victory in his second stint with the A's, bailing fellow newcomer Joe Kennedy out of a jam in the seventh and getting two outs in the eighth Thursday at Texas.

--LHP Barry Zito has pitched at least six innings in each of his last eight starts and allowed ten runs total to lower his ERA from 4.66 to 3.59 for the year. He's won six straight games to up his record at 9-8 after it was once 1-6.

--2B Mark Ellis hit his 17th career homer Wednesday and had a big smile on his face knowing that he passed Boston manager Terry Francona, the A's former bench coach, and was tied for second place (with Carroll Hardy) among players born in South Dakota. The leader is Dave Collins with 32.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's frustrating to go through these stretches. But the main thing is we're winning baseball games. Regardless if it's an 0-for-4 or 0-for-5, I can come in (the clubhouse) and still feel good about winning a game, doing something defensively that helps contribute to a win, or moving a runner over. It's always easy to struggle when you are winning baseball games." -- CF Mark Kotsay, who is batting just .178 since the All-Star break.

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