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Braden's gem keeps A's hopes alive

Braden's gem keeps A's hopes alive

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OAKLAND -- The A's realize the Rangers could very well clinch the American League West title in the confines of their home turf in Oakland this weekend.

But they're intent on not making it easy. That's just not their style. Especially when Dallas Braden is on the mound.

The A's gritty lefty essentially picked up right where he left off against the boys from the Lone Star State, following up an August shutout of the Rangers with an eight-inning, one-hit effort on Thursday as the A's claimed a 5-0 series-opening victory to keep Texas' magic number at four.

With the win, the A's moved seven back of the Rangers in the division with 10 games remaining, much to the thanks of Braden's ongoing effort of shutting down a Texas team which hasn't scored a run off him in 18 innings.

"We're having fun," Braden said. "We know what position we're in. We know what we're dealing with, but that's not going to deter us from coming in and getting our work in and getting to where we want to be. There's no obese lady in sight, and she ain't singing. I can't hear nothing."

The Oakland southpaw made everything look easy on this night. The only hit Braden did allow was an infield single off the bat of Nelson Cruz in the first frame that was fielded by second baseman Mark Ellis, whose throw to first was slightly off balance. Braden retired 19 straight thereafter before walking two consecutive batters to start the eighth frame, one he got out of with three successive outs.

"It was rough," Texas' Elvis Andrus said. "[Braden] dominated. That's the thing about those guys over there, they pitch good against us. He threw a lot of strikes and didn't give us much of a chance. Everything was around the zone."

"It was kind of a classic Dallas game when he's on," manager Bob Geren said. "He was throwing the ball in and out and just attacking the strike zone. He also had a great changeup working that he was using in all counts."

In Braden's mind, the winning formula was rather simple. He threw 40 pitches in the first two frames combined, but managed to toss just 74 through the remaining six, all with one notion in mind.

"I guess early contact," he said. "I can't really put a finger on one thing that was working or the end result for everything. I just go out and try to pound the strike zone. Big league hitters don't want to take strike three, and not too many can take four pitches either, so if you can fill up the strike zone, you're going to get action."

Braden, who struck out seven (three in the third), was aided by a handful of defensive gems, including an impressive effort of his own in the second, when he barehanded a ground ball from David Murphy and turned to make a successful throw to Daric Barton at first base.

"It looked fairly easy, right? That's what I do," Braden joked. "No, it was tough. There was some awkward spin on that ball, and I knew I wasn't going to have time to try to slide and pop up or field it with my glove. It was going to have to be that kind of play."

"He's one of the best athletes on the mound," Geren said. "He's just a tremendous athlete. That play, I don't know how many other pitchers in baseball can make that play. Out of 100 pitchers, not too many."

Then, in the seventh, Braden received a dose of help from Gabe Gross, who entered the lineup just minutes before game time when Rajai Davis was deemed unavailable because of a "non-baseball-related issue." Gross, making just his second start in the last 26 games, garnered the third out of the seventh inning with a diving catch in foul territory.

"Ridiculous," Braden said of the play. "Are you serious? He looked like the quarterback at Auburn just stretching out for the goal line right there. That was absolutely money. White men can jump, and they can lay out, too."

Gross was formerly Auburn's starting quarterback, though when told of Braden's comment, he replied with a smile, "He didn't see me play at Auburn very much, obviously."

Still, he was glad to help a teammate out.

"He pitched a gem of a ballgame," he said. "I looked up there at the end and had almost forgotten that first-inning hit was the only hit they got. That was an impressive game, and any time you can shorten an inning for your guy, that's big.

"When I first broke for the ball, I didn't think I was going to be able to get to it. It just kept hanging and hanging, and probably the last three or four steps I realized I had a chance. I was fortunate enough to make the catch."

Meanwhile, the A's offered Braden plenty of support against Texas lefty Cliff Lee, who tossed two hitless innings before surrendering a two-out double to Steve Tolleson in the third. In the next frame, Lee offered up back-to-back free passes to Barton and Kurt Suzuki -- marking the first time he had given up consecutive walks since June 4, 2008, a length spanning 585 1/3 innings.

"That was a great effort out of Lee," Geren said, "but you don't see him walk guys like that very often. A couple pitches were away from the plate there."

Lee paid dearly for those walks, as he struck out Kevin Kouzmanoff before allowing a run-scoring single to Jack Cust that scored Barton. Chris Carter followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 2-0.

Tolleson expanded Oakland's lead in the fifth thanks to his second double of the game, a hard ground ball to left field that scored a run. Ellis moved Tolleson to third on a single, and Barton's double-play ball brought Tolleson home for a 4-0 advantage.

That would mark Lee's last inning, as the Rangers' southpaw exited having given up four runs on six hits with two walks and three strikeouts. Scott Feldman came on in the bottom of the sixth, and Carter singled and scored on a double from Matt Carson to give the A's their final margin.

Braden tossed 114 pitches in his strong effort, one that was capped off with a scoreless ninth from Brad Ziegler to secure the victory, the club's fifth in its last seven games. With the win, Braden improved to 10-13 on the season.

"All in all, it's a win against the division leader," Braden said, "so we'll take it."

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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