ARLINGTON -- One, two, three. That's how the A's turned a daunting road trip against three teams fighting for their playoff lives into one of their most successful roadies since 2006, when they were a vibrant, gifted and veteran team that fell one step short of the World Series. The star-studded '06 A's had Frank Thomas and Milton Bradley leading the offense, Barry Zito and Dan Haren anchoring the rotation, and Huston Street at the back of the bullpen.
The collection of mostly young and unproven players that comprises the '09 squad has a lot of ground to cover before it morphs into a club that well-rounded, but it's been showing signs of late that it's not out of the question. The trip started with a split of a two-game series against the White Sox. It continued with two wins in a three-game set against the Twins, who -- like the Sox -- still have designs on the American League Central crown. It ended on Wednesday night with a 4-0 victory that completed a three-game sweep against the Rangers, whose hopes of catching the Angels in the AL West or the Red Sox in the AL Wild Card race took a devastating blow. "By far the best road trip of the year," said Oakland skipper Bob Geren. "The guys are playing loose, they're playing with confidence, and they're fighting. We played well the entire trip." Rookie catcher Landon Powell on Wednesday played the role of Thomas, the slightly hobbled but humongous slugger going deep to put the game on ice. His solo shot to center ended Rangers starter Dustin Nippert's night in the sixth and capped the scoring. Rookie Trevor Cahill channeled Haren, the right-hander with impeccable command and a three-pitch repertoire that sinks, sinks and sinks some more. Cahill, 21, bounced back from one of his ugliest outings of the season with his best effort of the year, providing seven efficient innings of one-hit work. And, to end it all, there was rookie Andrew Bailey reprising the role of Street, taking over for setup man Michael Wuertz and quickly wrapping up Oakland's combined one-hitter without incident. "It's exciting," said Bailey, who dropped his ERA to 1.98 and strengthened his case for AL Rookie of the Year. "The season didn't go the way we planned, but it's nice to go out there and show teams what we're capable of for next year." Cahill, who allowed three runs on five hits and two walks while throwing 74 pitches over three innings in that extra-inning loss at Chicago, gave up only a bloop single by Marlon Byrd in the second inning and walked two while striking out seven. After walking the batter after Byrd in the second, Cahill retired 17 in a row. "He had everything going," Powell said. "His changeup, slider and fastball all have a ton of movement, and when he's throwing it all for strikes ... it makes it pretty difficult to hit." Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler gave Cahill his due, but he wasn't in the mood to heap praise on an opposing pitcher. Everyone that Texas faces these days looks like Bob Gibson in his prime. "He threw strikes," Kinsler said of Cahill. "That's all you needed to do against us tonight is throw strikes." Cahill certainly did that. Fifty-six of his 94 pitches were strikes or foul balls. "I don't know if my stuff was any better than last time," Cahill said. "It was just command." The Rangers were outscored, 19-1, in the series and have scored one run in their past 37 innings dating to the seventh inning of the first game of a Sunday doubleheader against the Mariners. Asked what he'd have put the odds at if someone said his team would hold Texas to one run over three games in Arlington, Geren smiled and made reference to the unseasonable cool weather in the region. "The odds would be the same as if someone told me I'd be wearing a jacket tonight," he said, "which I was." The A's used eight pitchers in the series and allowed 11 hits while becoming the first Oakland team to hold an opponent to one run in a three game series since 1991. Oakland's previous low for runs allowed in a three-game series at Texas was nine -- in 2006. "They're one of the best offensive teams in the league," Bailey said, "but we showed what our staff is capable of doing." Rajai Davis got the A's going in the first inning, getting plunked with one out and stealing second base before scoring on a two-out double by Scott Hairston. Nippert retired 13 of the next 14 batters he faced, but Oakland broke through in the sixth. Adam Kennedy singled to start the frame, and Davis followed with an RBI double to center, taking third on the throw home. Ryan Sweeney's sacrifice fly made it 3-0, and Powell sent Nippert packing with his fifth home run in his past 10 games. With their eighth win in 10 games, the A's moved one game over .500 (36-35) since June 29. The Rangers have lost five of six. "It's exciting to be a part of this young program," Powell said, "that's going to do nothing but get better."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.