Inside Pitch: The Impact Of Jay Payton

Of all the trades general manager Billy Beane has engineered near the trading deadline, the one most credited for having the biggest impact was Jermaine Dye in 2001. Dye drove in 59 runs in 61 games that year as the A's stormed to the wild card title with 102 wins. But that thinking might be changing.

Third baseman Eric Chavez, the A's senior tenured player, believes the Jay Payton acquisition has topped Dye on the impact scale.

"I think it's the single best trade we've ever made -- just because of the lack of offense (this year)," said Chavez, who isn't biased because Dye is one of his best friends in baseball. "With Jermaine, our offense was already good and he bettered the offense."

Payton is playing every day and responding the way he always thought he could while sitting on the bench in Boston. Payton has 11 home runs and 33 RBIs in 37 games since his arrival, through Sunday. Payton homered in his first at-bat on Monday to give him 12 with Oakland and 35 RBI in 38 games. He is tied with Mark Kotsay and Dan Johnson for third on the team with 12 homers (he has 18 overall on the season.

His value hasn't just been with the bat, however. Payton has also given the A's a legitimate back-up centerfielder, something the team lacked before his acquisition. That has been important since centerfielder Mark Kotsay has missed a lot of time with a nagging back injury. Payton has played a solid left-field when Kotsay has been in the line-up.

"That's mainly why I wanted to get out of Boston," Payton said. "Fortunately, it's worked out well -- maybe a little better than anticipated. But I felt confident. I thought I could help a team win."

Blanton Continues to Shine

RHP Joe Blanton was nearly demoted to the minors in May. He was Oakland's best pitcher in June, slipped up a little in July, but has been the team's most consistent pitcher the last five weeks.

The rookie did it again Friday, pitched six scoreless innings to run his scoreless streak to 15 innings in the A's 4-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles.

Blanton has lowered his ERA in seven straight starts, during which time he's allowed five runs total in 45 innings (a 1.00 ERA).

"He's been extremely impressive," A's manager Ken Macha said. "He's got a bunch of weapons to get hitters out."

Blanton's ERA is down to 3.61 for the year, which puts him .12 runs from the top-10 AL leaders in ERA.

Take away one start in Tampa, his ERA would be 3.21. Take away his disastrous month of May, his ERA would be 2.42.

"He's got a lot of poise," Kendall said. "He doesn't act his age on the mound. You can't tell it's his first full year."

The six shutout innings on Friday were a struggle though.

Blanton stranded seven, including the bases loaded in a 27-pitch fourth inning. Eric Chavez made the key play in the inning, running a long way and making a tough back-handed catch near the stands for the second out.

"That," Blanton said, "was a huge out."

Chavez the Center of Attention

The latest example of the difference Eric Chavez makes in the lineup came Wednesday in Chavez's first game back after the birth of his first child.

"It's totally different," Ellis said. "He's our guy. Every team has at least one guy. He's definitely ours. He makes everybody around him better."

Chavez had three hits, including one of four home runs by the A's (a fifth was robbed). Mark Ellis led off the game with a homer, the A's cranked out 15 hits (their highest total in 17 days), and beat the Detroit Tigers, 9-2, at Comerica Park.

Here's the odd part: Chavez said he felt terrible before the game.

Chavez was awake extra early Wednesday, catching a 6 a.m. flight from San Diego after the birth of his son.

He felt so terrible during batting practice he went inside a batting cage to hit for another 10 minutes after the normal batting practice.

"I kinda hit the panic button a little," Chavez said. "My main focus was just put the barrel on the ball. I guess during the game a switch went on. But I was shagging balls and felt delusional. I didn't know where I was at."

Other Notes:

--C Jason Kendall scored the game's first run Friday by twice tagging up on shallow fly balls to left field, showing no respect for former teammate Eric Byrnes' arm.

--RHP Huston Street was 12-for-12 in save chances since the All-Star break with a 0.44 ERA through Saturday.

--SS Bobby Crosby, after a long dry spell of home runs, hit four in 17 games, including one apiece Friday and Saturday.

--RHP Kirk Saarloos, working on 10 days' rest, pitched seven scoreless innings Wednesday. On six or more days rest, Saarloos is 5-2, 2.68 ERA in nine starts covering 57 innings. On five or less days of rest, he is 4-3, 5.16 ERA in 12 starts covering 66 1/3 innings. That trend continued on Monday, when Saarloos worked only 4.2 innings on his regular rest. He allowed three runs.

BY THE NUMBERS: 0.44 -- the ERA of rookie closer Huston Street since the All-Star break. Street is 11-for-11 in save chances.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I just had to focus more. Maybe I was a little lethargic mentally, instead of being pumped up. I think that works to my advantage when I'm lethargic. It helps me not trip out on everything. Because you're not attentive to every little thing, every little hit, every little thing they are saying. You just get in a little bit of a daze out there." -- LHP Barry Zito.

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