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Bowen blasts Athletics to victory

Bowen blasts Athletics to victory

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ARLINGTON -- Rob Bowen is a 6-foot-3, 225-pound catcher for the A's. He runs pretty well for a big fella, but he's not exactly the kind of guy who comes to mind when you think of pinch-runners.

But that's exactly why he only got 94 at-bats in 94 games with the Padres last season. He entered 21 of those games as a pinch runner, usually for Mike Piazza -- a teammate then and also now with the A's.

"I think I might have led the league in that," Bowen said Wednesday night. "Mike would get on base in the seventh or eighth inning, and I'd go run for him and stay in to catch the last inning or two to keep him fresh.

"It was fine with me. Anything to get in the game."

Acquired from the Cubs on July 16 in a trade that sent Jason Kendall to Chicago, Bowen, a 26-year-old switch-hitter, did more than get into the finale of a three-game series at Rangers Ballpark.

He got his fifth start behind the plate since the deal and belted two late home runs -- one from each side of the plate -- to give Oakland the series with a 6-3 victory.

A's starter Lenny DiNardo gave up a game-tying two-run homer to Brad Wilkerson in the fifth, but Bowen hit a tie-breaking solo blast in the seventh inning and added a two-run shot in the eighth to help DiNardo pick up the win and extend his unbeaten streak to five starts.

"I'm glad Rob picked me up," said DiNardo, who gave up three runs on eight hits and three walks while striking out four over six innings to improve to 6-6 with a 3.28 ERA. "He did an excellent job with the bat and behind the plate. He's gonna be really good. He's a big, strong kid, and tonight was an excellent example of what he's capable of."

A's manager Bob Geren also called Bowen a "strong kid," noting that both homers were of the no-doubt variety.

It was a triumphant homecoming of sorts for Bowen, who was born in Bedford, Texas, spent part of his childhood in nearby Grapevine and grew up a Rangers fan.

"I went to a lot of games at the old place," Bowen said of Arlington Stadium, where Texas played until moving into its new digs in 1994. "I watched Nolan Ryan, Pudge [Rodriguez], all those guys."

Bowen also said he rented a car while the A's were here and drove to see the house in which he used to live.

"I know my way around here pretty good."

And while he's still getting used to being an Athletic, he's had some practice at blending into new environments. He started the season with the Padres, was traded to the Cubs on June 20 and spent less than a month with Chicago.

"It's always tough to move to a new team," he said, "especially two times in one season."

Geren, though, said Bowen quickly won his new teammates over.

"He has a wonderful personality; somewhat outgoing," said the skipper. "The pitchers have taken to him right away. He's been very impressive with everything he's done. He just hasn't had many at-bats.

"We haven't seen him play all that much, but obviously he was impressive tonight,"

Oakland's bullpen was impressive, too, as Huston Street, struggling Santiago Casilla and interim closer Alan Embree combined for three shutout innings of one-hit work.

The A's took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second when Mark Ellis doubled and scored on a single by Marco Scutaro, but the Rangers tied it in the bottom of the frame on an RBI single from Jason Botts. Oakland went back in front in the third on an RBI single by Jack Cust, and Piazza followed with a run-scoring groundout, but Wilkerson's two-run homer on a first-pitch fastball from DiNardo knotted things back up.

Then Bowen took over.

Leading off and right-handed against Rangers lefty reliever A.J. Murray (0-1) in the seventh, he slammed a 2-1 fastball into the seats beyond the wall in right-center field to break the tie.

"He crushed that," Piazza said. "When he gets the barrel on the ball, he can hit it a long way."

After Street got out of a jam in the bottom of the seventh to preserve the lead, retiring Michael Young, Sammy Sosa and Marlon Byrd with runners at first and second, Bowen struck again.

Following a two-out single by Donnie Murphy in the top of the eighth, Bowen, batting left-handed against Rangers righty Wes Littleton, drilled a line drive into the bleachers in the right-field corner.

"He pretty much carried us offensively," Geren said.

Street was going to work the eighth if the lead was still one run, but the cushion prompted Geren to turn to Casilla, who had allowed 10 runs in his previous 11 outings.

Casilla retired all three batters he faced, and Embree, who blew a save in the series opener, shook off a two-out walk in the ninth to convert his 14th save in 17 chances since taking over as closer when Street went on the disabled list with an irritated elbow nerve on May 15.

Embree, who often threw to Bowen last season as the Padres' setup man, jokingly called him his "designated catcher."

Bowen doesn't care what you call him. Even if it's "pinch runner."

"Honestly" he said, "I'll take what I can get. This is the big leagues."

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

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