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SEA@OAK: Gonzalez gives up one run over seven innings

OAKLAND -- All it took was a bright sky and an even brighter uniform for the A's to finally break away from the loss column on Sunday.

Donning their new gold jerseys for the first time under a warm sun, which proved difficult for Seattle's outfielders, the A's also learned that a strong defensive showing and an even stronger pitching effort -- two facets that were uncharacteristically missing in their previous two games -- can also go a long way.

All of the above contributed to a 7-1 victory over the visiting Mariners, as the A's avoided the brooms in preparation for a challenging nine-game road swing through Toronto, Minnesota and Chicago beginning Tuesday.

Oakland plays 16 of its next 22 contests on the road, essentially making Sunday's contest something of a must-win for a team that played .420 baseball when away from the confines of the Oakland Coliseum last season.

In that same season, the green and gold posted a 35-21 record when playing during the day. Sunday's win continued that trend.

"It was a nice day, beautiful sunshine," manager Bob Geren said. "It looked like the yellow belonged out there with the big sun out there."

"I think it's the yellow jerseys," starter Gio Gonzalez said. "We distracted them. This is how it should have been right from the get-go."

Gonzalez, once the bearer of bad news while under pressure, took his season debut in stride, tallying 116 pitches in seven solid innings. The southpaw surrendered a solo shot to Ryan Langerhans in the second but relied on his defense through the next handful of frames, which saw the A's make two double plays after they committed six errors in the first two games.

First baseman Daric Barton committed the club's Major League-leading seventh miscue in the first frame on a dropped popup in foul territory, but it proved inconsequential on an otherwise mistake-free day for an Oakland team that prides itself on boasting one of the league's best defenses.

"When talking about defense, that and pitching is our backbone," outfielder Coco Crisp said. "Our pitching's been doing good. Our defense has been stinking up the field, the clubhouse, but we were able to minimize the damage today."

Gonzalez took advantage of it, pitching through the seventh inning despite starting the frame in trouble with runners on first and second and no outs. With lefty Jerry Blevins warming in the bullpen and Gonzalez past the 100-pitch mark, Geren paid a visit to his starter.

"It was a little rusty at the beginning, kinda spiraling out of control," Gonzalez said. "Bob came out and gave me good words of encouragement. It's a good feeling when your manager is behind you and believes in your pitching. You try to do your best for him, and that's what I was trying to do."

The 25-year-old southpaw watched Jack Wilson move his teammates over on a sacrifice bunt, but he proceeded to jam Ichiro Suzuki and force a soft grounder before notching a key strikeout against Chone Figgins via his devastating curveball to end the scare.

"He made big pitches when he needed to," Seattle manager Eric Wedge said. "We had a couple different opportunities there to take a lead or at least tie the ballgame, but Gonzalez did a good job. He made pitches when he needed to and that was the difference."

Gonzalez's teammates, meanwhile, did their part against Seattle starter Doug Fister on the offensive side, erasing an early 1-0 deficit with a run in the third on an RBI triple from Crisp and another in the fourth courtesy of a run-scoring groundout by Mark Ellis.

Ellis picked up his second of three RBIs on the day in the sixth with a hit that scored Josh Willingham, who led off the frame with a double. Fister went 5 2/3 innings for Seattle, giving up three runs -- two earned -- on eight hits with two strikeouts.

The A's added four in the seventh. Crisp, who finished a homer shy of the cycle, led off with a double that center fielder Ryan Langerhans lost in the sun. Mariners relievers Josh Lueke and David Pauley then combined to walk three and hit a batter.

Crisp had his chance at the long ball in the bottom of the eighth against Tom Wilhelmsen, but he grounded out to first base.

"I got a pitch up," Crisp said. "I like pitches up, sometimes I get 'em and sometimes I don't. This was one of those where I didn't get it, but [the cycle] definitely crosses your mind."

Sunday's showing is exactly what the A's want to see from Crisp, whose 2010 season was interrupted by injury three times. When healthy, he proved to be the club's catalyst, posting a .279 average with eight home runs, 38 RBIs and a career-high 32 stolen bases in just 75 games.

"I feel I'm a really good player when healthy," he said. "Staying healthy has been the toughest thing for me since 2006.

"Today, I think we did a good job of seeing more pitches and allowing their pitchers to get themselves in trouble and get ourselves in big-inning situations."

Designated hitter Hideki Matsui also fared well, collecting his first two hits with the A's -- the former a second-inning double off Fister that represented his career 2,500th hit, which includes his time in the U.S. and Japan.

Blevins came on in the eighth and gave the club two shutout innings. It was a welcome sight after the A's watched its seemingly untouchable bullpen hand away a pair of wins in the late innings the previous two days.

"That's the team that we should see every day," Geren said.

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