New York's CC Sabathia, who entered the contest undefeated in his last 20 starts at Yankee Stadium, stood in Braden's way in what turned out to be quite the duel -- for five-plus innings, at least.
The A's lefty was forced to exit the game with a runner on first and no outs in the sixth inning after experiencing cramps from the humid heat. The grim news only added to a disappointing 5-0 loss and subsequent four-game series sweep in the confines of the Bronx, where the A's were outscored 28-11 this week en route to falling three games under the .500 mark.
A 1-9 record against the pinstripes this year marked the third consecutive season the A's have handed away the season series.
"It was a rough one for us," A's manager Bob Geren said. "The first two nights here we got beat around pretty good, but the last two days we pitched well. It was disappointing, considering where we were coming into this series and where we're at now."
Oakland entered the Bronx 7 1/2 games behind Texas. On Thursday, they boarded their charter flight facing a six-hour trip while glaring at a 10-game deficit.
"It [stinks], obviously," Braden said. "It obviously could have been a lot better for us, and I'm not sure this series is real indicative of the way we played the entire trip. Obviously, this series puts a damper on things."
All didn't seem so hopeless from the start, though. In fact, Braden and Sabathia combined to allow just three hits through the first five frames. Two were attached to Braden's name -- one a big one in the form of a solo shot to left field off the bat of Jorge Posada in the second inning.
The A's, meanwhile, got a leadoff hit from Mark Ellis in the second but nothing thereafter in the frame, which was followed by a third inning that saw Cliff Pennington collect two bases on a throwing error to first base by Posada. The A's shortstop moved to third on a short groundout by Coco Crisp, but he was left stranded when Rajai Davis popped out and Kurt Suzuki struck out swinging.
After that frame, the A's were retired in order through the next three innings, a span during which Braden exited after a pitch to Curtis Granderson with Derek Jeter on base via hit-by-pitch in the sixth.
When asked after the game when he initially felt the heat, the always entertaining Braden replied, "When we landed." But it was in the fourth inning when he found himself laying down against the tunnel, feeling "like a Labrador on the kitchen tile" attempting to cool down.
"My leg started to spasm," he said. "Before the sixth, it cramped up and I had to stretch it out. When I landed on that pitch to Granderson, I went to flex my [right] leg and it just grabbed."
The A's pitcher insisted he drank two pitchers of water on Wednesday night and had never experienced anything of the sort. He was given an IV shot following his exit and said he was feeling better.
"That's why it was so scary to me, because I've never cramped up like that before," Braden said. "I thought my leg was falling off. Physically, it felt like there was a knot in the back of my leg. It feels like I pulled my hamstring 20 times in a row."
"He was throwing the ball well and was doing a good job mixing in and out, but he just cramped up and couldn't get rid of it," Geren said.
"He was pitching well up until that point," Granderson said. "Very effective. He's always pitched us very well. Who knows what would have been the situation had he stayed in the game a little longer?"
Braden was replaced by lefty Jerry Blevins, who proceeded to catch Jeter stealing before serving up a home run to Granderson to make it 2-0.
In the seventh, with righty Michael Wuertz on the mound, Eduardo Nunez reached base on a single, stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error by Landon Powell. The Yankees third baseman was ultimately tagged out at the plate on a fielder's choice ground ball by Jeter, but Wuertz allowed New York to extend its lead by surrendering a two-run shot to Granderson, his second on a day he happened to enter the game late for the injured Nick Swisher.
The A's came up empty against Sabathia, who tossed eight shutout innings while earning his Major League-leading 19th win of the season and sixth straight. He allowed just one hit while walking three, hitting one and striking out five.
"He was equally as impressive, if not better," Geren said. "We didn't hit a lot of balls hard against him at all. He used everything and was aggressive down in the strike zone."
Sabathia's dominating start, along with a healthy supply of run support, allowed Geren to utilize September callup Justin James in a rather non-pressure situation in the eighth inning. The A's right-hander, making his Major League debut, responded by striking out Robinson Cano on three pitches before surrendering three consecutive singles, the last of which came from Austin Kearns and scored the Yankees' fifth run. James was able to garner two final outs, though, to limit the damage while utilizing 28 pitches in front of his parents and three closest friends.
"Overall, it was an unbelievable experience," James said. "With my family here, facing the Yankees, I can't even describe the feeling."
With the loss, the A's have now dropped six of their last eight, as they finished a 10-game road swing through Cleveland, Texas and New York with a 4-6 record. The club returns home Friday to kick off a nine-game homestand against the visiting Angels and is hoping to turn its East Coast stay into a distant memory -- still aware, though, of how it has affected the near future.
"It's just disappointing because you take your lumps for a few days and the last day comes on your turn," Braden said. "You want very, very badly to turn the train around. ... I didn't give my team a fair shot. I wanted to shove, especially against a competitor like CC."