Kendall, A's remain red-hot in Texas

Kendall, A's remain red-hot in Texas

ARLINGTON -- Jason Kendall has so many superstitions that he can't for the life of him come up with the most bizarre of them all. In fact, he wouldn't detail it anyway, because he's got a "Fight Club" mentality.

"One of my superstitions is to not talk about my superstitions," he said this spring.

Kendall takes a similarly minimalist approach when asked to talk about his own performances, particularly when there's nothing minimal about them. He rang up his fifth consecutive multiple-hit game Saturday, extending his extended run as Oakland's hottest hitter, but he didn't shed much light on the reasons for his recent success after a 5-3 victory over the host Rangers.

Rather, he flipped a switch on the cliché fountain he activates during group interviews and offered nothing beyond, "I just try to see it, hit it, and hope it falls in."

Not much is not falling in these days for Kendall, who paced Oakland's 10-hit attack with three hits in five at-bats. He's batting .542 (13-for-24) in his past five games, .486 (17-for-35) through nine games on the road trip, and .443 (27-for-61) with 11 multiple-hit games over his past 14 contests, boosting his overall batting average to a team-high .296.

"He's swinging the bat the way we knew he could swing it when we got him," said Oakland third baseman Eric Chavez. "What he's doing now is not the surprise. What he did last year was the surprise."

Kendall struggled at or near the top of the batting order for most of 2005, his first year with the A's after nine seasons in Pittsburgh. A .306 career hitter with the Pirates, he batted .271 last season, and it would have been even uglier had he not gone on a .324 tear in September and October.

Thus, A's manager Ken Macha dropped Kendall to the bottom third of the order early this season, hoping it would alleviate some of what he suspected was a little self-imposed pressure.

"I talked to him when we moved him down and I told him, 'This isn't set in stone,'" Macha said. "He said, 'I'm gonna make your decision tough,' and he's certainly done that. He's reclaimed that leadoff spot, and he's thriving in it. ... He's quietly putting together a real good year."

He's also doing his usual bang-up job of handling the Oakland pitching staff, which delivered another mostly brilliant night of work to wrap up the club's 18th victory in 23 games this month. Joe Blanton pitched 6 2/3 solid innings and relievers Joe Kennedy and Justin Duchscherer were perfect over the final 2 1/3 frames as the A's maintained their 5 1/2-game lead over the Angels in the American League West while pushing the Rangers nine games off the pace.

"What Jason does with the pitchers is something the typical fan can't really see or appreciate," said A's outfielder Mark Kotsay. "Fans just look at numbers, and if they have certain numbers in their mind and you don't put those numbers up, you're a disappointment. I think Jason's kind of been a victim of that here, but he's anything but a disappointment to the guys in this room."

The A's got rid of Rangers starter Adam Eaton (3-4) early, drawing first blood in the second inning when Frank Thomas singled, went to third on a double by Chavez and scored on a groundout by Jay Payton.

Kendall opened the third with a single and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Thomas, and Nick Swisher opened the fourth by pulling the first pitch he saw into the right-field seats. Shortstop Marco Scutaro followed with a walk, went to third on a double by Mark Ellis and scored on a single by Kendall that chased Eaton.

"I was just inconsistent and didn't make many good pitches," Eaton said. "And I ran into a hot Oakland team today."

Blanton (14-10) cruised early, striking out four in a row a one point during a span that bridged the second and third innings, but the Rangers finally broke through in the sixth. Michael Young led off with a double, and when Carlos Lee's grounder up the middle glanced off Scutaro's leg and into right field, Young came around to make it 4-1 on what was scored as an RBI double for Lee.

Blanton got the first two outs of the sixth, but a double by Rod Barajas and a walk to Gary Matthews Jr. prompted Macha to hand the ball to righty reliever Kiko Calero, who walked Young to load the bases and gave up a two-run single to Lee to cut Oakland's lead to one.

That brought Kennedy out of the bullpen, who retired Mark Teixeira on a fly ball to center field, and Kotsay followed consecutive one-out singles by Scutaro, Ellis and Kendall in the top of the eighth with what looked like a grand slam. Instead, much like two deep drives earlier in the game by Thomas, the wind batted down Kotsay's bolt to right-center field and turned it into a sacrifice fly.

"It was kind of unusual the way the wind was tonight," Kotsay said. "Everything in the air got knocked down. ... I've hit balls out of here in the past that were hit just as good as I got that one."

"I think the wind was blowing straight down," Macha cracked.

Kennedy cruised through a perfect bottom of the eighth, and Duchscherer worked a perfect ninth to pick up his fifth save in seven chances this year.

"To come in here and do what our pitchers have done the past two nights, it's pretty impressive," Kendall said. "That's a darn good hitting team over there, one of the best -- if not the best -- in the league."

With a sweep-clinching victory in Sunday's finale, the A's can drop the third-place Rangers 10 games back with 32 to play, but nobody in green and gold was willing to write Texas off.

"It'd be really tough [for them to come back]," said Chavez. "It'd definitely put them in a tough position. But honestly, you don't really look at the third-place team right now. You kind of look at the team right behind you, and that's the Angels."

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.