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Brown's homer lifts Blanton, Athletics

Brown's homer lifts Blanton, A's

OAKLAND -- To borrow a phrase from A's manager Bob Geren, there were many positives to the game.

No, really -- there were when talking about Tuesday's 5-2 series-opening victory against the visiting Phillies.

On the mound, there was tough-luck pitcher Joe Blanton, who snapped his four-game losing streak by pitching seven solid innings of four-hit ball -- his only mistake coming on a solo home run to Pat Burrell in the fourth inning.

In the batter's box, there was Emil Brown, who had been hailed as the team's RBI man early in the season before embarking on a recent 0-for-14 skid. The outfielder put a halt to his hitting woes in a big way, sending a three-run homer to left-center field in the seventh to give the A's a 3-1 lead over Jamie Moyer, who had been almost unhittable until that frame.

In the bullpen, there was Huston Street, who came out to overcome his previous errors -- a blown save Friday and a loss Saturday -- and pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning with two strikeouts for his 14th save of the season.

The A's moved to eight games over .500 for just the third time this season -- marking their largest winning percentage of the year at .553.

For Blanton, Tuesday's gem represented a fresh start. The right-hander had posted a 7.94 ERA in his last four starts, including a three-inning, eight-run effort in his previous outing against Arizona.

"I put a lot of focus into this game," Blanton said. "After last week not being very good, I put in everything in every pitch."

Those words were evident in the way he was working. He posted four innings without a baserunner and found his way out of every jam, including a seventh-inning, bases-loaded double play that kept Philadelphia from scoring and set up an A's comeback in the bottom half of the inning.

"I just threw a sinker in," he said. "I wanted to get that ball on the ground.

"Tonight I took a deep breath and visualized every pitch. It helped me stay calm."

At the time of the big out, though, Blanton wasn't the only one throwing strikes and putting away innings in an efficient manner. His counterpart, Moyer, limited the A's to just one hit in the first six innings and fanned a season-high nine in the game.

"We knew what we were gonna get with him," said A's DH Jack Cust, who gave his team more cushion in the eighth by hitting his 12th homer of the season. "Guys were being patient, but he was making his spots, moving the ball in and out and keeping [us] off-balance."

Some of his pitches, though, had home-plate umpire Jeff Nelson getting some looks from the A's bench. As Brown noted after the game, "It wasn't just Moyer out there" getting those strikes. The questionable strike zone, which Geren insisted was consistent, forced hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo out of the game. He was ejected by Nelson in the bottom of the fifth after a called third strike against Jack Hannahan, marking the third ejection in two games for the A's, who watched Mark Ellis and Geren get the boot in Sunday's tilt against Florida.

Moyer eventually made a mistake that proved to be the difference in the game. After he allowed Ryan Sweeney and Bobby Crosby on base with singles in the seventh, Brown took him deep to put the A's ahead, 3-1, and force Moyer out of the game one batter later.

"Joe had been pitching out of tough situations, so for me to get that hit was big," said Brown, who had started just three of the A's last 15 games.

Said Cust: "Emil's the guy; he's a gamer. It's definitely tough when you're not playing a lot, but it's a crazy game."

By the time Brown hit the homer, Blanton was back in the clubhouse, but the right-hander made sure to catch the game-changing dinger on television.

"It's just one of those things -- if you stick around long enough, it's gonna happen," Blanton said. "When the other guy's not giving up anything, you know you can't either."

Philadelphia decreased the lead to one in the eighth, when Ryan Howard knocked an RBI single off reliever Alan Embree, but Oakland got some insurance in the bottom half of the frame on Cust's two-run homer for a 5-2 lead.

The ninth inning was just as quick -- if not quicker -- as any other frame of the game, which lasted just 2 hours and 24 minutes. Street struck out Jayson Werth and Geoff Jenkins back-to-back before getting Pedro Feliz to ground out to end it.

"That's a good lift for him, personally," Geren said. "He was using the lower half of the plate better, and his velocity was excellent."

Also getting a smile out of Street's outing was Blanton, who could relate to the reliever's struggles.

"I'm real happy for him," Blanton said. "He had struggled last week, and so did I, but he's mentally tough. ... He had great movement on his fastballs and had great sliders going."

As much as Street needed the boost, though, Blanton may have needed it more -- and his teammates were happy to lend him a hand in the win.

"Joe always keeps the team in the game, so it's nice to get him some runs," Cust said. "He's a horse. You know what you're gonna get when he goes out there. He's gonna battle."

Jane Lee is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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