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Gio up to task, keeping A's in race with win

Gio up to task, keeping A's in race with win

ARLINGTON -- Two days ago, the A's dashed into Texas, tripped up and quite literally fell, when Brett Anderson went down injured, and looked up with a series-opening loss and 9 1/2-game American League West deficit.

That night, Mark Ellis noted a sweep would have been preferable given the standings, "but if we can win the series, we won't be out of it."

Fast forward to Sunday, when the A's did just that by way of an 8-2 victory over the Rangers that followed a 5-0 shutout less than 24 hours prior.

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The rubber-match triumph in the Lone Star State put Oakland 7 1/2 back of Texas with 33 games remaining on the A's calendar, leaving a postseason berth still out of close reach, but not unattainable.

At least that's how the A's see it.

"That's very doable with a month left in the season," Ellis said. "It's not easy to close out the division, I know that from experience. We're just going to keep playing and see where we end up at the end of the year.

"We needed these two games, there's no doubt about it. The season wouldn't have been over, technically, but it's nice to win these two games."

A's manager Bob Geren said the series victory didn't so much make a statement to the Rangers as it did prove that Oakland is a ballclub capable of more than just pitching, leaving him to believe his team still has a legitimate shot at catching Texas.

"If our offense continues to swing the bats the way they are to match the great pitching we have, sure, definitely," he said. "We have to get that consistent offense. Our pitching's been the best in baseball since the All-Star break."

The stats back it up, too. Oakland's starting pitching staff owns a 2.75 ERA since the break, and Sunday starter Gio Gonzalez has aided that number immensely thanks to a 2.27 mark over his past 12 starts.

The A's southpaw was forced to follow up quite the performance from teammate and mentor Dallas Braden, who on Saturday tossed his second shutout of the season. Gonzalez didn't quite make it to the ninth, but he did put together a solid six-inning performance, giving up two runs on five hits while walking one and striking out four.

"It's impressive what Dallas did," said Gonzalez, who improved to 12-8 with a 3.23 ERA on the season. "I was just trying to follow the footsteps of a guy who pitched a great game yesterday. The Rangers are a great hitting team, and we respect every one of them."

Josh Hamilton collected Texas' two RBIs on the day, the first coming on a single in the third and the second courtesy of a sixth-inning solo homer -- one that influenced Gonzalez to take a step back and channel Braden by having a little pep talk with the baseball.

"You have to see stuff like that and acknowledge the fact the guy knows what he's doing out there," Gonzalez said of Braden's act. "He's rubbing off too much on me. I started yelling at the ball, saying, 'C'mon, do your job.' The baseball even told me to calm down."

The maneuver worked, as did a lot of other things for the A's on Sunday, when they brought out equal doses of small ball and long ball against Texas starter Colby Lewis, who gave up seven runs (six earned) in 5 2/3 innings.

Both clubs remained scoreless through the first two frames, but Rajai Davis got things going in the third with a double and following a Cliff Pennington single and a Coco Crisp walk to load the bases, scored on a sacrifice fly from Daric Barton.

Pennington singled again to lead off the fifth, and after Crisp struck out, he stole second and was joined on the bases by Barton following a walk. Pennington crossed home plate thanks to a throwing error from Lewis, who attempted to start a double play ball from Kurt Suzuki, but instead threw it into the outfield. The A's made it 4-1 when Suzuki stalled a rundown, which resulted in a double play off the bat of Jack Cust, long enough to allow Barton to score.

Oakland tagged Lewis for three more runs in the sixth, which began with a long ball from Kevin Kouzmanoff, marking his 12th homer of the season. The A's then got back-to-back singles from Jeff Larish and Davis -- the former was replaced on the bases by Gabe Gross, who scored from third courtesy of a suicide squeeze play started by Pennington.

"It's a great play," Geren said. "We've been working on it and had the perfect guys to do it, and it was executed perfectly. ... We've played a couple other teams that have done it. It's almost impossible to defend, so I figure if you can't fight them, join them."

"The situation presented itself," Pennington said, "and it worked."

An RBI single from Crisp capped off a three-run sixth, and the A's added one more in the ninth on a sacrifice fly from Matt Carson. Meanwhile, the relief duo of Craig Breslow and Michael Wuertz combined for three shutout frames to seal the rubber match.

"Big win," Geren said. "Just good baseball all the way around. Good pitching, good bullpen, swung the bats well, stole bases, safety squeezes. We threw everything we had at them and beat them."

"The whole goal is to win every series that we play, and we were able to do that," said Ellis, whose homer was his first since June 17. "From an outsider's perspective, it's probably easy to say we needed a sweep, but that's not easy to do with a first-place team. To get two games is good, it's really good."

The A's, now headed to New York for a four-game set with the Yankees, shifted one game above the .500 mark with the win and have now claimed victory in eight of their past 12 games, making contention a serious state of mind.

"Nobody's given up on anything," Geren said. "Everybody's trying to win every game. These guys fight 'til the end every time."

"You know what?" Gonzalez added. "I'm just saying, 'Don't count us out yet.' We're still fighting. The season's not over yet."

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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