Sheets helps A's cool off red-hot Rays

Sheets helps A's cool off red-hot Rays

OAKLAND -- Following his previous two starts, A's righty Ben Sheets wasn't exactly a happy camper. Seventeen earned runs will have that effect on a man.

But in the clubhouse after his eight-strikeout performance on Saturday, Sheets was in a better mood, as he led the A's to a 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.

"It's hard to have fun when you have your [butt] handed to you like I did the last two games," Sheets said. "I just had to take a deep breath."

After giving up a pair of runs on three hits in the second inning, Sheets settled down, retiring 14 of the final 16 batters he faced.

For the first time with Oakland, Sheets said he felt like he got into a good rhythm. He finished 6 1/3 innings, giving up two earned runs on four hits while walking three.

"It was obvious he wanted to put his last two starts behind him," A's reliever Brad Ziegler said. "He was able to do that now."

Sheets recorded 1-2-3 innings in each of the third, fifth and sixth frames. It was the first time he notched multiple perfect innings in the same game this season. He had just four 1-2-3 innings all season heading into Saturday's game.

Much of Sheets' success Saturday had to do with his curveball, which was consistently fooling the Rays all afternoon. His command, too, looked nothing like it did in his previous two starts, as his eight strikeouts were the most he'd thrown since July 9, 2008.

"I missed bats today for the first time I feel like all year," Sheets said.

Though A's manager Bob Geren said Sheets benefitted from a different arm slot, a couple of inches lower than before, Sheets wouldn't acknowledge the change.

"Maybe," Sheets said with a smile. "I wouldn't tell if I did though."

Citing his unfamiliarity with the American League and his status as his new team's ace, Sheets said he was pressing in his first few starts. Sheets said Saturday's start was the most comfortable he had felt in an A's uniform.

To do it against Tampa Bay, which currently has the best record in the Majors, only added to Sheets' joy. Not to mention the Rays only needed four innings to score eight earned runs against him on April 27.

"When you can throw that well against that team, it can only help you gain confidence," Sheets said.

The outing was Sheets' longest in the green and gold, and his longest since he pitched a complete game shutout on Sept. 6, 2008, with Milwaukee.

"Even with a veteran guy like him, an All-Star pitcher like him, there's still a confidence factor," Geren said. "He needed that today, he really did."

Once again, the A's bullpen put forth a great effort on Saturday, completing 2 2/3 innings of shutout relief. Andrew Bailey tossed a perfect ninth to earn his sixth save of the season.

"It was a pretty good bullpen anyways," Geren said. "Now [Michael Wuertz] is starting to get back to where he looked last year and he's going to help a lot. He's going to shorten the game by at least two or three or four hitters."

Protecting a 3-2 lead, Sheets left with one out in the seventh after giving up a leadoff walk and fielder's choice. Wuertz relieved Sheets and gave up a double to Reid Brignac to give Tampa Bay runners at second and third, but the Rays couldn't push anything across.

Wuertz got Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett to hit a grounder to A's third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, who alertly threw home to catch John Jaso in a pickle between third and the plate. After that, Jerry Blevins came in and struck out Carl Crawford with a fastball to preserve the lead.

Blevins called it the biggest out he's recorded all year.

"It's one of those wins where it's a momentum starter," Blevins said.

The A's jumped all over Tampa Bay starter Wade Davis in the top of the first, scoring two runs on three hits. Daric Barton delivered an RBI single with the infield in to give the A's a 4-2 lead in the seventh.

The win was extra special for Ziegler, who launched his Pastime for Patriots Foundation on Saturday. Ziegler purchased 200 tickets for war veterans and their families and got to meet a handful of them.

"It's icing on the cake," Ziegler said.

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