Josh Donaldson hit his first career grand slam, and Jarrod Parker continued his great stretch of pitching as the Oakland Athletics are once again in first place in the American League West division.
Donaldson’s sixth-inning, opposite-field shot off Chicago’s Chris Sale gave the A’s a 4-3 lead, and Parker pitched seven strong innings, giving up just two earned runs. Ryan Cook and Grant Balfour nailed down the one-run victory, and Oakland is right where they want to be after their 18th win in the last 21 games.
The A’s (38-25) won their fifth straight game over the White Sox, and they will play them two more times this weekend before returning home to Oakland next week to host the New York Yankees.
But for now, they can savor first place — as much as they can for June 7, of course.
The White Sox scored single runs in the third, fourth and fifth innings, respectively, to take a 3-0 lead, and Donaldson’s grand slam came after two singles and a walk. It came on a 1-1 count, and it illustrates just how far the A’s third baseman has come since Opening Day 2012.
A year ago this time, he was hitting .148 and hadn’t drawn a single walk in his first 78 at-bats. Eventually, Donaldson was sent down to the minors to work on a variety of things.
And he has come back with a vengeance.
By the end of the 2012 season, the then 26-year old third baseman had figured something out: he hit .290 in 176 at-bats in the second half of the season, and then Donaldson clipped it at a .294 rate in the AL Division Series — all while playing stellar defense at third.
Now, this season, he’s hitting .329 with nine home runs and 41 RBI — definitely, All-Star caliber. Throw in his glove work (he’s only made six errors so far this year), and the A’s could have their first position-player All-Star since catcher Ramon Hernandez in 2003.
Toss Balfour’s relief dominance into the mix — tonight’s save was his 33rd consecutive conversion of an opportunity — and Oakland might get two All-Stars in this year’s Midsummer Classic, something that’s happened only once (2010) since the 2004 season.
Parker’s rough April will prohibit him from making his first All-Star team this year, but if he keeps outdueling Sale in head-to-head matchups, he might get there someday soon.
The A’s young starter kept the game close enough for the offense to make its move, and when he handed the ball over to Cook after giving up a single to start the eighth inning, Parker had done his job well enough.
Giving up the five hits and two walks in seven-plus was definitely all the A’s hitters needed to give them their chances tonight, and when Donaldson delivered, Oakland knew they could reclaim first place.
And they did.
On May 16, the A’s were 7.5 games out of first. Eighteen wins in 21 games later, they are in first.
Resiliency, again, at its finest, for Manager Bob Melvin’s fun bunch.