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07/25/10 9:00 PM ET
Braden ends post-perfecto drought
A's lefty snags first win in 10 tries since history-maker
By Jane Lee / MLB.com
OAKLAND -- Dallas Braden held back a smile, his always-entertaining self ready to enter sarcastic mode when asked if he remembered his last win. "It was a Sunday," Braden said, before pausing a few seconds. "It was a while ago." Make it exactly 11 weeks ago, when he forever etched his name in the history books by throwing a perfect game against the Rays on May 9. Until Sunday, that is. For on Sunday, with the A's looking to take their fourth consecutive series, Braden appeared to regain something of his pre-perfecto self. And in the midst of his efforts, Oakland snagged more than enough runs en route to a 6-4 victory and subsequent series win over the White Sox. "I can quit answering calls from the Oakland Zoo looking for the monkey on my back," said Braden, who moved to 5-7 on the season. It marked his second start since coming off the disabled list, where he sat for a few weeks nursing his elbow back to health. His first outing, a rather short 4 2/3-inning appearance, didn't go so well. His sinker was missing, and he never really got in much of a rhythm. All that changed on Sunday, when Braden recovered from a long first inning that resulted in a Paul Konerko RBI double to put together five straight scoreless frames before being tagged with two after his exit in the seventh. "He had a good sinker going for him today," batterymate Kurt Suzuki said. "His sinker was down in the zone. He didn't leave very many balls up. And when it was up, it was up and away. His changeup was working, and his changeup and fastball are his bread and butter. But when he can get that sinker going on that outside corner to righties and inside to lefties, it helps him out a lot. It opens up the whole game for him, the whole plate." Braden's seventh-inning exit -- which came with one out and runners on first and second, both of which Jerry Blevins allowed to score -- was greeted with a standing ovation of more than 17,000 present at the Oakland Coliseum. He, along with just about everyone else in the confines of the stadium, knew the victory had been a long time coming. "I think it's been bothering him a bit, just because everyone keeps talking about the perfect game, and rightfully so," Suzuki said. "That's the type of thing, you do such a great thing, and you're obviously going to be under the microscope a little bit more. Now it's time for him to get on a roll. We're excited to have him back, and the way he's pitching is awesome." Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen didn't go so far as deeming Braden "awesome." He didn't even really have all that much to say about the A's lefty. But, seemingly like Braden usually does, he told it like he saw it. "He's a character," the White Sox skipper said. "Kooky son-of-a-gun. That's all I can say. I don't see anything special -- he beat us. He beat us because he threw strikes, changed speeds and he gave his team a good chance to win. But he's only another guy on the mound. I don't see anything special." On Sunday, Braden didn't either. But, given his injury-prone past, he's being realistic about his post-DL performance. "I feel good," he said. "I expect some fatigue the first three or four starts coming back and getting in the swing of things, but for the most part I was finishing pitches, which is what I was worried about coming off my last start." Meanwhile, Suzuki lent his partner in crime a good dose of support at the plate, where he collected a pair of hits and three RBIs just 24 hours after putting together a three-hit day. "It's nothing that we don't expect out of Kurt," Braden said. "He's been a stable guy at the plate. He's going to become a perennial All-Star. We're excited for him to get back swinging, get back rolling, get things going." Suzuki, the A's new $16 million man by way of a four-year contract agreement reached on Friday, is 14-for-34 (.412) over his last nine games after going 4-for-37 (.108) over his previous nine contests. "I'm trying to just simplify things a little bit more," he explained. "I'm trying to get a good base going and reduce the movement in my setup and swing. I kind of went back to the basics, and sometimes that's what you have to do instead of over thinking things. You have to keep things simple, use the whole field and not overswing. Just try to find the barrel and hit the ball hard somewhere." Whatever it is, it's working. And the A's, guided by his ways, are suddenly winners of nine of their past 11 games. They finished the six-game homestand with Boston and Chicago at 4-2 and have now won four consecutive series for the first time since May 27-June 14, 2007, when they won five straight. The offense can't be handed all the credit, though. On Sunday, the club matched a season high with four stolen bases and now has 16 since the All-Star break, good for most in the Majors. Those efforts paid off big, as an aggressive offense worked its way around the bases against four White Sox hurlers, including starter Dan Hudson, who was tagged with five runs in five innings. "It's been no mystery that we're not going to hit a lot of homers, so we have to do other things, little things," Suzuki said. "We have to run the bases, get guys over, get guys in, because we know our pitching is going to be there. We feel if we can generate offense somehow, we'll get some wins." "We're running the bases really well," Braden said. "That's been key for us. We've been able to create some rallies by putting ourselves in good position on the bases. We're not always going to get that big homer, so we're getting runs by way of base running, by way of stealing. We're making things happen. This is the type of baseball we expected in Spring Training. We knew what we were capable of, and now we're starting to show it."
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.