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Braden bulldogs way to shutout of Texas

Braden bulldogs way to shutout of Texas

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ARLINGTON -- The competitive nature exuding from Dallas Braden every five days is undeniable.

The A's lefty has recently admitted feeling a sense of fatigue, the result of a natural wear and tear on his body as the season reaches the end.

Until that end comes, though, it's go time. Every time.

That feeling came to life on the mound in Texas on Saturday, when the ultra-competitive Braden reminded the Rangers via a 5-0 complete game that their first-place standing in the American League West is not entirely secure.

"I know he's the type of guy who will be aggressive and pitch," A's manager Bob Geren said. "This game was very important for a lot of reasons. It was important for our pitching to go deep to save our bullpen. It was important to even the series, and it was important to gain ground on them."

Never mind that Texas still leads Oakland by 8 1/2 games. Or that the A's continue to straddle the .500 mark, where they reached Saturday for the 25th time this year. Saturday's showing -- one that came after Brett Anderson lasted just two innings due to injury in a 7-3 loss Friday -- proved that the A's aren't shying away from this race.

"This is big as far as momentum is concerned," Braden said. "You come back a night after getting the wind knocked out of you, so to speak, you need that victory. It's huge to come back and swing the bats well, play defense well."

Oh, and pitch well.

Braden masterfully put away the Rangers, allowing just four hits and no walks as he faced four over the minimum while compiling a strikeout and, more importantly, 15 ground balls, en route to becoming the first pitcher since Sept. 18 to shut out Texas in Arlington.

"I don't know that it's any type of accomplishment," Braden said. "It feels good to kind of stymie an offense like that. We needed to win, and that's what I came to do.

"The ground-ball factor, when you have a defense like we do, there's no letup. You look at Web Gems every night, you'll find a bunch of Oakland A's plays. That's what I think. I know I can put the ball in play and get some pretty good results because of the guys behind me."

Braden, who entered the contest with a 4.15 ERA in 10 career games against Texas, is 5-2 with a 2.37 ERA in eight starts since returning from the 15-day disabled list July 20.

"What can you say?" Geren said. "A shutout in the heat in Arlington against a lineup like that. What else can you say? That's about it."

Said Landon Powell, who has caught four of Braden's five complete games this season: "Same stuff he always gives you. He's very consistent. Obviously he's got the fastball on both sides of the plate, but he can also mix it up with his changeup to give you a good combo.

"We had to win this one when we're trying to keep up with them."

Braden's counterpart, Rich Harden, had a rough go of it against his former team. The A's pounded the righty for four runs on eight hits and two walks in just 4 1/3 innings.

An RBI single off the bat of Kevin Kouzmanoff put the A's on the board early in the first, and a two-run homer from Daric Barton -- his seventh of the year and second in as many days -- gave Oakland a 3-0 lead in the third. Then, in the fifth, Kurt Suzuki drove home Barton with an RBI single to force Harden out of the game.

Texas lefty Derek Holland, called up by the Rangers on Saturday, replaced Harden and surrendered Oakland's final run as a result of another run-scoring hit from Suzuki, this time a double, in the seventh.

The A's duo of Suzuki and Barton is 9-for-16 in the series, and they provided more than enough support Saturday for Braden, as evidenced by a career-high-tying four hits from Suzuki, and a career-high four runs, not to mention two hits and two walks, from Barton.

But by night's end, all eyes were on Braden, who entered the ninth having thrown 99 pitches and, despite allowing a leadoff single to Elvis Andrus to force Andrew Bailey to be called on to get warmed up in the bullpen, finished with 120 pitches. And, given that competitiveness, of course Braden wanted to finish it up himself.

"Real bad," Braden said. "About as bad as you want to wake up every morning."

Said Rangers manager Ron Washington: "All Dallas Braden. We certainly would have liked to have seen [Harden] go out there and hold them down, but we didn't put anything on the board either. We didn't do anything against Dallas Braden. We just got shut down."

Braden is well aware of the meaning behind Saturday's game, but he's not about to let standings dictate his club's performance the rest of the season.

"I know I've got a locker," Braden said. "I know I've got a jersey hanging in my locker, and I come to the field every day to put it on and go to work. When that last day comes, if we're standing, we're standing. If we're not, we're not.

"Yes, this series is huge for us, but you can't put that kind of pressure on yourself day in and day out. You have to go out and give yourself a chance to work your plan. If I'm worried about standings, I'm not worried about a 1-1 pitch. I'm not worried about the guy at the plate. There's no space in my head for those thoughts."

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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