A's finish off sweep in extras
Swisher's RBI double drives home the game-winner
CHICAGO -- In climbing from 15 games under .500 on May 29 to even by Saturday, the A's relied heavily on the following: smothering starting pitching, air-tight defense and lights-out relief work from All-Star Justin Duchscherer and rookie closer Huston Street.
They got none of the above Sunday afternoon, yet as a testament to just how good things are going for the Elephants, they survived a game that third baseman Eric Chavez called "flat-out ugly."
Rookie Nick Swisher capped a big day at the plate with an RBI double in the top of the 11th inning, leading the A's to a wild 9-8 victory over the White Sox to complete a three-game sweep at U.S. Cellular Field.
Even the game-winner had an element of ugly to it. After Chavez trotted home from third as Swisher's one-out bolt to right-center field bounced off the base of the wall, rookie first baseman Dan Johnson was gunned down at the plate trying to score ... from second base.
"Bad baserunning on my part," Johnson copped. "I didn't get far enough off the bag while I was waiting to see if it was gonna be caught."
So when Chavez turned in a spectacular play to end the game with the tying run at second by smothering a tough-to-handle short-hop off the bat of Chris Widger before uncorking an off-balance strike to first, Johnson was, in his words, the "happiest man on the planet."
"Oh my god," said Johnson, who went 3-for-5 with a double, a homer, a walk and three RBIs. "When Chavvy made that play, it was like the biggest wave of relief ever came over me."
And with Chavez's play, the A's finished the first half by getting over .500 for the first time since May 1. All the better, they did it at the expense of the team with the best record in baseball; the White Sox suffered their first series sweep of the year and their first home sweep since August of last season.
"It was a really disappointing weekend," said Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen, who effectively iced Street with a lengthy on-field argument before pinch-hitter Timo Perez's game-tying double with two out in the ninth. "There's nothing you can do about it."
"If had just one word to describe it," said Swisher, who homered in the ninth to give the A's a short-lived 8-6 lead, "it would have to be 'unbelievable.'"
Not a bad call. Dan Haren went looking for his seventh consecutive win and instead got his earliest exit since May 9, making one of three Oakland errors along the way. And after Duchscherer gave up a run in the seventh inning, Street gave up two in the ninth to send the game into extra innings.
"It wasn't the best played game out there," manager Ken Macha said of the 3-hour, 47-minute affair. "But these guys were fighting and scratching and clawing."
Handed a 1-0 lead in the first, a 2-1 lead in the second, a 3-1 lead in the third and a 4-2 lead in the fourth, Haren gave up single runs in the first, second and fourth before surrendering a two-run homer to Carl Everett in the fifth that gave Chicago its first lead of the series at 5-4.
The White Sox run in the fourth was unearned as a result of two Oakland errors, and Haren's throwing error in the sixth hastened his departure with two on and one out. Haren, who allowed 10 hits and a walk, lasted at least six innings in his previous 11 starts.
Righty Kiko Calero came on to clean up Haren's mess in the sixth, and the A's responded with a three-run rally against White Sox reliever Neal Cotts in the top of the seventh that featured a two-run double by Johnson and, after intentional walks to Bobby Kielty and Marco Scutaro, an unintentional walk to Adam Melhuse.
Chicago closed to within one when Duchscherer gave up a run on three hits in the bottom of the frame. And after Duchscherer got the first two outs in the eighth -- the second coming on a crashing catch at the wall in center field by Kotsay, who went 2-for-6 with a homer -- Street got Frank Thomas on another fly ball to Kotsay to end the inning.
Swisher's 11th homer of the year, a towering shot to right, was essentially negated when Paul Konerko led off the bottom of the ninth with the first homer off Street this year, a line drive off the left-field pole. Carl Everett followed with a single and took second on a sacrifice bunt, after which Street froze A.J. Pierzynski with a fastball down the middle for a called third strike that prompted Guillen's gamesmanship.
Pierzynski flipped his bat in disgust and was almost immediately tossed by home plate umpire Marty Foster, bringing Guillen out of the dugout for an animated discussion.
"Ozzie prolonged it as long as he wanted to," Macha said. "Somebody could have stopped it if he wanted to, but apparently his beef was a good one."
Guillen said he was simply defending Pierzynski, but he was out there long enough to force Street to start playing catch with catcher Melhuse from off the side of the mound to stay loose.
Two pitches after play resumed, Perez belted a fastball into the right-center gap to score Everett.
"I think [Guillen's] just a competitor, and he might have had a problem with the pitch [to Pierzynski], which I thought was a good one," Street said. "But if he had ulterior motives, that's probably smart, too. ... I don't think it affected me, though. I was just trying to focus on making a good pitch, and I didn't. And when you don't make your pitches in the big leagues, you get hit."
Street bounced back with a perfect 10th, matching his longest outing of the year at 2 1/3 innings, and before Swisher's heroics, Street told Macha he was prepared to go back out for the 11th.
Macha let him. Konerko led off with his career-high fifth hit of the day, and pinch-runner Jermaine Dye stole second with two out before Chavez, who disagreed with stretching Street out for another frame, put an end to it all.
"I was totally against it," Chavez said of Macha's gamble, which the manager said he wouldn't have made had the A's not taken the lead. "One game is not worth the second half of the season."
Then he paused briefly, perhaps remembering that he'd been one of the A's to go public with the .500-by-the-break goal.
"But whatever," Chavez said. "We won the game."
"I don't know how," added Swisher. "But who cares?"
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.