OAKLAND, Calif. — If there’s one thing that separates the Oakland A’s and the Orioles, the American League’s two upstarts, it’s that the A’s young pitching has been a tick better this season.
On Saturday, in Oakland’s 5-2 victory, A’s 23-year-old right-hander Jarrod Parker was a whole lot better than 24-year-old lefty Zach Britton.
That was the difference in the Orioles’ second consecutive loss to the A’s that, paired with a New York Yankees’ victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday afternoon, has dropped the Orioles out of first place again.
The Orioles (81-64) still maintain grasp of the second wild-card spot, but have now fallen three games behind the A’s (84-61) for the top spot.
With the win, Oakland clinches the season series against the Orioles at 5-3 — which would give the A’s home-field advantage if the clubs tie for the wild card spots — and it goes for the sweep Sunday.
The Orioles have now lost 16 of their last 18 in Oakland and have not won a season series against Oakland since 1998.
On Saturday night, it all fell apart for Britton and the Orioles in a 10-batter, 38-pitch third inning in which Britton (5-3) allowed five runs on four hits, two walks and a hit batter.
Stephen Drew led off the inning with a solo homer, his fourth of the season and second with the A’s. Britton then walked Coco Crisp and hit Jonny Gomes before Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes followed with RBI singles. The big blow came off the bat of Chris Carter, a double down the right field line that scored Reddick and a sprinting Cespedes from first.
The Orioles immediately attempted to mount a rally against Parker in the top of the fourth. Adam Jones singled and Chris Davis followed with a double down the left field line. Jones seemed to slow down on his way to third before realizing he was being waved in by coach DeMarlo Hale.
Jones was thrown out at the plate on a perfect relay from Cespedes to Drew to catcher Derek Norris. It was one of several tremendous defensive plays by the A’s, including a couple by Drew and a highlight-reel snag of a foul pop by third baseman Jason Donaldson while falling onto the rolled-up tarp near the home dugout.
Parker (11-8) did the rest, scattering seven hits and one walk while striking out five and allowing just two runs in seven innings. He yielded a Nate McLouth homer and an RBI double by Mark Reynolds and little else. After Jones was cut down at the plate in the fourth, Parker retired 11 of 13.
Parker has given up three runs or fewer in five of his past six starts.
Britton, in contrast, retired just 12 batters in the game. He allowed four hits, four walks and five runs in just four innings. He has now allowed 10 earned runs and nine walks in his last two games, spanning 7 1 / 3 innings, after making four straight quality starts.
Steve Johnson entered in relief in the fifth and threw three scoreless innings to keep the game close. The rookie from Kingsville hasn't allowed a run in last 8 1 / 3 innings (four games).