A's leapfrog over Rangers in West

A's leapfrog over Rangers in West

ARLINGTON -- As the A's have increasingly focused their attention on the future by turning to their younger relievers late in close games, the present for 38-year-old Alan Embree has grown increasingly bleak.

Oakland's saves leader in 2007, Embree has become almost an afterthought in the second half of the season, used mostly in mop-up duty.

"My role," Embree said with a sly smile late Monday night, "is basically, 'Break Glass in Emergency.'"

Having already used his youthful bullpen nucleus of Jerry Blevins, Huston Street, Joey Devine and Brad Ziegler, A's manager Bob Geren needed to break the glass in the opener of a three-game series at Rangers Ballpark.

Embree responded to the emergency call with 1 1/3 scoreless innings to pick up the win, as Oakland prevailed in 11 innings, 4-3.

"It's nice to contribute," said Embree, who'll become a free agent this winter if the A's decline their $3 million option on their most veteran lefty for 2009.

Ziegler, who was pitching for the fourth day in a row and for the fifth time in six days, allowed a game-tying, opposite-field homer to Hank Blalock on an outside, thigh-high fastball to open the bottom of the ninth inning.

"It was a good piece of hitting; if he tries to pull it, he's out," said Ziegler, who wanted no part of using his hefty workload of late as an excuse. "It wasn't the worst pitch I've made all year. ... When someone takes you out the other way, you've got to tip your cap."

Ziegler's pitch to pinch-hitter Frank Catalanotto was far worse, right down the middle, and Catalanotto smoked it for a two-out triple. Embree came on to retire pinch-hitter Gerald Laird on a liner to third baseman Jeff Baisley before whipping through a scoreless 10th, and earned the win after Travis Buck's RBI single in the top of the 11th proved to be the game-winner.

"That was awesome," said Geren, who turned 47 on Monday and is now 2-0 on his birthday as a manager. "That was fun. I loved it. The guys played all the way to the end. They never quit. It's just so much fun."

Particularly fun for the A's would be finishing the season in second place in the American League West. Monday's win not only marked the first time in six series against the Rangers this year that Oakland has won the opener, but it also pushed the A's one-half game ahead of Texas, which now sits in third place.

"It's something to play for," Geren said. "That's the best we can do, so we're going for it."

So is Rangers manager Ron Washington, a former longtime infield coach for Oakland. "Wash," as he's affectionately known everywhere, made a point before Monday's game of noting that the race for second place is important to him, and Geren was glad to hear it.

"I'm sure it is," Geren said. "It should be. It is to us."

And not just because second place comes with a modest bonus check.

"It's not about the money, at least not for me," Geren said. "It's about competing. It's fun to compete, and it's good for the young guys on this team to be playing for something."

A's lefty Greg Smith was shaky early on, allowing a run in each of the first two innings before blanking the Rangers in his final three frames of work. German Duran doubled and eventually scored on Milton Bradley's sacrifice fly in the first, and Blalock singled and scored from third on a one-out single by Duran in the second.

Texas' Chris Davis, who had reached on an error by A's left fielder Aaron Cunningham, also tried to score from second on Duran's second-inning single. Cunningham, however, delivered a strike to the plate to gun down Davis, whose collision with catcher Kurt Suzuki left Suzuki flat on the ground for a few minutes.

"It was just a deep bruise in the hip area," Geren said when asked why he didn't take Suzuki out of the game. "I was just glad it wasn't his knee."

Oakland answered the Rangers' first run with two of their own in the top of the second. Bobby Crosby followed Jack Cust's leadoff walk with a double off Texas righty Kevin Millwood, and both A's came in to score on Cliff Pennington's single up the middle, which Rangers All-Star center fielder Josh Hamilton bobbled for an error.

The A's took the lead in the third when Ryan Sweeney singled and scored on a double by Cust, and Blevins, Street and Devine each worked a hitless inning in relief of Smith before Ziegler took over to start the ninth.

"I won't use him tomorrow," Geren said of Ziegler.

"That's good to hear," Ziegler responded.

Pennington doubled off Luis Mendonza to open the 11th and scored on Buck's hard ground ball through the right side of the infield with one out, and righty Santiago Casilla survived a leadoff single by Blalock in the bottom of the inning to pick up the save.

"One bad pitch [by Ziegler]," Geren said of his relievers, who gave up three hits and a walk over six innings. "Other than that, the bullpen was fantastic. Other than that it was perfect."

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