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NYY@OAK: Griffin pitches six strong innings vs. Yanks

OAKLAND -- A.J. Griffin may boast the least experience among the A's starting staff, but he sure likes pitching as if he has the most.

On Thursday, the right-hander looked as if he did, holding the Yankees to just two runs over another six impressive innings, as his club notched its second straight victory and sixth in its last seven games, by way of a 4-3 decision over baseball's best team.

With the win, the red-hot A's improved to a Major League-best 11-2 in July and climbed to a season-high four games over .500 for the first time since May 31, 2010. Oh, and that nine-game losing streak against the Yankees at the Coliseum? That's been put to rest, too.

Suddenly, the A's are garnering national attention with their play, some of it coming from the dugout just opposite of them.

"They're playing better," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "They've won 10 out of their last 12, they had a big win yesterday, they're swinging the bats better, their starting pitching has been good and their bullpen has been good. This is a team over .500, so they're playing pretty good."

Griffin, naturally, made the latest task look easy.

He tends to do that. With just five big league starts to his name, nearly all against high-profile teams, the righty has tallied six innings in all of them with ease, not once surrendering more than three earned runs.

On Thursday, he struck out four and issued no free passes to a patient pinstripes lineup in the 90-pitch winning effort, at one point retiring 11 in a row with a devastating fastball-curveball combination.

"That's huge, the speed differential with that, and the arm speed I can maintain with that curveball. That's been my bread-and-butter lately," Griffin said. "Even if they kind of know it's coming, I feel like they still have a hard time staying up on it. That's all pitching is, adding and subtracting velocity and going after guys. We play a kid's game, we're just trying to have fun out there. And we're having more fun right now, winning games, having a good time."

Griffin, just 24, found trouble in the first, allowing three of the first four batters to reach base, yet he left the frame unscathed. He loaded the bases in the sixth and surrendered two runs, but he struck out Raul Ibanez on a 67-mph curveball with runners on the corners and two outs to end the threat and keep his club's lead intact.

"First inning, I had some nerves a little bit, but I just had to overcome those," he said. "I felt like I was trying to do too much maybe. Around the third inning, I just told myself don't try to throw hard, just spot it up and stay within yourself, do what you do that makes you good. I felt like I turned a page right there for sure. And when I hand over a lead, like a two-run lead after the sixth to the bullpen, I feel like we're going to win this game for sure."

Closer Ryan Cook surrendered a ninth-inning homer to former A's star Nick Swisher, but that's all the Yankees would get in failing to overcome an early deficit for which they can thank Yoenis Cespedes.

Cespedes, making his first career start against the Bronx Bombers after watching them from the sidelines while injured back in May, greeted righty Freddy Garcia's 1-1 curveball in the first by clobbering it to left field for a two-run shot, his 12th of the season.

Much was made of Cespedes' potential inability to connect on big league breaking balls, but the Cuban sensation has managed just fine. He has hit safely in each of his last seven games, going 14-for-26 with three home runs, nine RBIs and six runs in that span.

"He's a true force in the middle of the lineup," manager Bob Melvin said. "When you're going up against an offensive team like that, you like to have all your bullets and certainly he's one of our biggest ones."

"I was watching video of [Freddy] Garcia before the game and I could see he liked to throw a lot of offspeed pitches," Cespedes explained through translator Ariel Prieto. "I was waiting for something slow like that. In the first at-bat, the first pitch was a curveball. I didn't swing, because I wanted to watch it. Then I saw a fastball, and by the third pitch, another curve, I was ready to swing the bat."

The A's extended their lead in the third, when Coco Crisp and Jemile Weeks collected back-to-back singles and scored on Seth Smith's two-run single for a four-run lead, en route to improving to 36-9 when scoring four runs or more.

"It's nice to get on the board early, especially against a team like the Yankees, who can strike at any time," Smith said. "You want to maybe get them down a little bit, and I guess that's what we did. We won another game."

Seems like that's the norm in Oakland these days.

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