ARLINGTON, Texas – Bartolo Colon has a way of simplifying life for the A’s.
After they took the most chaotic route imaginable to beat the Texas Rangers on Friday night, they just handed Colon the ball Saturday afternoon and let him do the heavy lifting.
He responded brilliantly, spinning eight shutout innings in a 1-0 victory that further sucked the life out of the reeling Rangers.
Texas looked at this series – their final games against Oakland in the regular season -- as a way to springboard back into the American League West title picture. They’ve instead lost more ground.
The A’s hold a 5 ½ game lead on the Rangers with 14 games left to play (Texas has 15 remaining). Oakland’s lead was 3 ½ games when they arrived in the Lone Star State.
“For the last few years, they’ve really controlled the division,” A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson said. “Now they’re looking up at us right now.”
The Rangers had their chance to turn things around Saturday, with ace Yu Darvish on the mound. A victory would have given them a chance to win this three-game series and grab momentum. Darvish was terrific. Colon was better.
The 40-year-old right-hander has helped the A’s stave off a Texas charge this weekend and move closer to a second straight division title. Their magic number to clinch the A.L. West is 10.
Colon is also regaining his All-Star form from the first half, and that bodes well looking ahead for the A’s.
A healthy and effective Colon makes their potential postseason rotation look much stronger with him and Jarrod Parker leading the way, and rookie Sonny Gray and either A.J. Griffin or Dan Straily rounding out a four-man starting staff.
A’s manager Bob Melvin said Colon takes pressure off the shoulders of Oakland’s other four starters, none of whom have as much as two full years of major league experience.
“When he’s pitching well, the other guys don’t feel like they have to do too much,” Melvin said.
Take it a step further. When Colon is dialed in, he even makes Melvin’s job easier. The manager doesn’t have to burn through his bullpen as he did in Friday night’s victory, when he used four relievers in the eighth inning alone as Texas was mounting a six-run rally.
Colon (16-6) necessitated only one call to the ‘pen Saturday, when closer Grant Balfour entered to nail things down in the ninth.
“If he’s able to pitch like he did today, it makes it a lot easier on us,” shortstop Jed Lowrie said. “Today, in particular, he looked real good. His fastball had a little extra giddy-up. He does such a good job of watching hitters and seeing how they react to what he throws.”
Colon, speaking through interpreter Ariel Prieto, said he relied less on his two-seam fastball and more on his four-seamer, opting for velocity over movement. He also mixed in his slider more.
The strategy worked. He struck out seven and walked just one, and he blew a 96 mile-per-hour fastball by Mitch Moreland to end the fourth and strand runners at second and third.
“That was like mid-June Bartolo,” Melvin said. “You could tell he really had great command of his fastball. I don’t think he threw a breaking ball until the fourth inning.”
Colon needed to bring his best because Darvish was dealing. The Texas right-hander struck out 10 over seven innings. Remarkably, he’s lost four 1-0 decisions this season.
The last major leaguer with that many 1-0 defeats in one season was the Dodgers’ Orel Hershiser in 1989. Darvish is just the third A.L. pitcher since 1916 to have as many as four, according to baseball-reference.com.
The A’s were complimentary of Darvish’s stuff.
“I feel like I’m a pretty good breaking ball hitter, and he makes me feel like I’m not,” Donaldson said.
The A’s were less thrilled with some mid-game trash talk Darvish threw their way. But they’re pleased with the scoreboard result the past two days.
Saturday represented a potential swing game in this series as far as momentum, but the A’s maintained their roll behind Colon.
“If he can step up and look how he is,” Donaldson said, “and be that guy from early on in the year, I feel pretty good about this team.”