Heist in Texas: Sweeney's stab seals win

Sweeney's stab seals A's matinee

ARLINGTON -- Matt Holliday said it was sick. Bobby Crosby said he was shocked. Dallas Braden said it was phenomenal.

A's center fielder Ryan Sweeney -- who made the catch of the season so far for Oakland on Thursday to help lift the A's over the Rangers, 4-2 -- said it's the kind of play you practice as a kid, but you don't know if it will actually ever happen.

The towering fly ball came off the bat of Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler with the A's leading, 3-1, with two outs in the bottom of the eighth. And typical of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, it started off as an innocent-looking play for Sweeney, who drifted back to the wall.

He kept drifting. He got to the wall and timed his jump perfectly, pulling back a three-run home run that would have given the Rangers their first lead of the day.

The Bay Area already has "The Catch" -- coming on San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana's pass to Dwight Clark -- but as far as a handful of A's players are concerned, this will go down as their "catch" until someone comes along and does better. Some media members in the Rangers Ballpark press box were calling it the most pivotal, best catch they've seen in Arlington since the ballpark opened in 1994.

"I didn't know just what it was going to do," Sweeney said. "I tried to get back, and I was trying to time it. It surprised me [that] I got it in my glove. It was a good feeling."

"That was No. 1 for me in person," Braden said. "That's just a 6-5 athlete making a great play."

"I threw up my arms," Crosby said. "I don't usually get emotional on the field. But I saw it go and thought, 'Wow,' when he caught it."

Kinsler, the player who was robbed, reacted in disbelief as he rounded first and watched Sweeney bring the home-run ball back instead of it landing on the grass berm past the railing in center field.

"That was a good catch," Kinsler said. "There's nothing else I can say about it. I was thinking that I want to see it on the grass. I saw him back there and camped under it. I was hoping it would be on the grass and out of his reach."

The A's had a bunch of good things happen as they finished April with an 8-11 record. They needed every one of them in what manager Bob Geren called a grind-it-out kind of game.

The good things began with Braden, who was not incredibly efficient over five innings -- throwing 111 pitches to be exact. His work in the fifth inning, however, gave the A's a chance to grab the lead.

Braden worked out of a bases-loaded jam with the game locked in a scoreless duel. He got a huge out with men at second and third and no outs, when the red-hot Michael Young popped out to second.

After an interesting intentional walk to Andruw Jones, Braden turned away the Rangers' threat by winning a lefty-lefty matchup with Hank Blalock, who popped out to second. Nelson Cruz then struck out on a 70-mph pitch to the close the inning.

"I was doing my best to throw every pitch I've thrown in my entire baseball career," Braden said. "I was trying to create pitches out there. In seriousness, I was pitching to contact."

The A's, who had left six men on base entering the sixth, responded to Braden's Houdini act by taking a 1-0 lead in the top of the inning.

Catcher Kurt Suzuki started things with a double and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Landon Powell, who was inserted into the lineup to replace the injured Eric Chavez.

The A's took advantage of their own bases-loaded opportunity in the top of the seventh. Rangers reliever Eddie Guardado walked the first batter he faced, Jack Cust, to force in a run. Suzuki later added a sacrifice fly off Jason Jennings to extend the A's lead.

That turned the game over to a depleted bullpen, Sweeney and, finally, Holliday.

The A's got two clutch innings from emerging reliever Andrew Bailey, who lowered his ERA to 1.15. Bailey -- a non-roster invitee to Spring Training who had never pitched above the Double-A level and had very little experience pitching out of the bullpen -- has not allowed a hit to a right-handed batter this season. He retired all five Rangers he faced Thursday.

After Sweeney's catch, an emboldened Holliday -- the A's prized offseason acquisition -- finally produced his first home run of the season, a towering drive in the top of the ninth similar to Kinsler's that just made it over the center-field fence. It was Holliday's first homer for Oakland in his 75th at-bat, and it gave the A's a 4-1 lead.

In the bottom of the inning, Holliday threw out Young, who made an ill-advised attempt to stretch a double into a triple. Holliday's throw was right on line.

Of course, it wasn't the defensive play of the day for the A's. That goes to Sweeney, a former basketball star from Xavier High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Sweeney said after the game that he threw down some pretty mean dunks in high school.

But he may have never jumped as high as he did Thursday.

"It was definitely a memorable play," Sweeney said. "I've never gone over the wall to catch one."

Todd Wills is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.