OAKLAND -- In football, they say defense wins championships. In baseball, there is an amendment to that saying. On the diamond, it is said that pitching and defense wins championships. Pitching is something that the Oakland A's definitely have, ranking second in all of Major League Baseball with a 3.28 team ERA heading into Wednesday night's game against the Red Sox. They are behind only San Diego and are first in the American League. One aspect of this team that might be overlooked is the stability of their defense, particularly on the infield.
They rank 11th in the Majors in fielding percentage and sixth in the AL entering Wednesday, but it's not the numbers that are important in this case, it's the faces on the infield dirt that make manager Bob Geren happy. "Obviously, that's a big part of our success," Geren said. "We are led by our pitching, but our defense has been very important." The name that sticks out from the list of A's infielders is Eric Chavez, who is on his way to becoming one of the greatest defensive third baseman in history. "I don't have a large enough vocabulary to say how good he is," Geren said. "He's one of the main guys on our team. He's a true leader on this team, and he can do so many things." Chavez has won six Gold Gloves and is making a statement for a seventh. His fielding percentage sat at .969 on Wednesday, good for fourth in the AL. But it's not the routine plays, it's the difficult plays he makes look routine. "It's very nice to see him on our side when he is making those plays," Geren said. "It never gets old how good he is." Chavez is also starting to heat up at the plate, with seven hits in his last five games including three home runs in that span. He had a walk-off home run on Monday against the Red Sox then hit one on Tuesday, scoring the first run of the game off Daisuke Matsuzaka. Chavez is the name that everyone thinks of when you mention the A's defensively, but they are solid at every other position with Mark Ellis at second, Bobby Crosby at shortstop and Nick Swisher and Dan Johnson both seeing time at first. Ellis, whose .997 fielding percentage last season was the highest in history for a second baseman, has made just four errors this year and has a fielding percentage of .985 so far. "We're definitely surprised when one of us makes a mistake," Ellis said. "If we do make a mistake, we are diving if the next ball is hit anywhere near us the next time." Crosby, who is getting better as he gets healthier, is fielding at a .966 clip, and the platoon at first couldn't have worked any better. Swisher has not made an error, and Johnson is at .991. Swisher has also played center and right without an error as well. Perhaps the A's don't get talked about defensively because they fly under the radar, which is just fine with them. "I think that's why were so efficient, we're not real flashy," Ellis said. "We just go about our business, and I think the fans in Oakland appreciate what we do." Huston has liftoff: Huston Street, who has been on the disabled list since May 13 with irritation in his right elbow, threw a baseball for the first time in 24 days prior to Wednesday's game. Street made about 30 throws in the outfield, none of them from farther than 60 feet. "Today was just about getting the ball in my hand and easing into it," Street said. "We are doing everything we can to keep it healthy, so now it's about getting it back into shape." Street appeared to just be happy to have a baseball in his hand as the A's closer has been champing at the bit, but he has been smart and taken it slow. "I was nervous with every single throw," Street said. "I can't say I trust it yet. There's no timetable." Bradley scratched: Milton Bradley, out with a calf strain since Saturday's game against Minnesota, was originally in the A's lineup on Wednesday, but he was a late scratch. Bradley, who was scheduled to bat fifth and play center field, was replaced in center by Swisher, who was originally slotted to play right. Travis Buck went from left to right, and Shannon Stewart entered the lineup, going into left field and batting sixth. After running prior to Tuesday's game and again before the game on Wednesday, Bradley told Geren he was ready to go, but about an hour and a half before game time, Bradley complained of soreness in the injured calf. He has battled hamstring and wrist injuries as well and has played in just 19 of 57 games this year. Snelling starts rehab: Chris Snelling, trying to work his way back from injury, began his rehab with Triple-A Sacramento on Monday night. He went 0-for-2 in his first game, but then went 2-for-6 on Tuesday. Snelling has been sidelined since May 16 with a knee contusion. Up next: A's righty Joe Blanton (5-3, 3.81 ERA) will pitch his first game since his three-hit shutout against Minnesota when he takes the ball on Thursday opposite Red Sox righty Curt Schilling (5-2, 3.91). First pitch is scheduled for 12:35 PT at McAfee Coliseum.
Matt Smith is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.