Harden, Rangers slip to A’s 6-2

AP Baseball Writer

OAKLAND (AP) — If only the Oakland Athletics had Coco Crisp contributing this way all season. They might be much closer to pushing the first-place Texas Rangers for a playoff spot.

Crisp homered, hit two sacrifice flies and scored twice to back 10-game winner Gio Gonzalez, and the A’s beat the AL West-leading Rangers 6-2 on Saturday.

Crisp missed 70 games early in the season during two separate stints on the disabled list in his first year with Oakland.

“Hopefully this day can lead to some positive stuff,” Crisp said. “I’ve been feeling fine but you can’t hit it right at people. It feels like I’m playing catch with them.”

Mark Ellis also had a sacrifice fly as Oakland quickly jumped on former A’s ace Rich Harden. The A’s snapped Texas’ three-game winning streak and pulled within 8 games of the Rangers in the race for the division title.

Gonzalez (10-7) reached double digits in victories for the first time in parts of three major league seasons. The left-hander allowed four hits in seven shutout innings, struck out two and walked three.

“Everyone wants to win 10 games or more,” Gonzalez said. “This is a difficult milestone. The 10th win is special for me and for the team. I don’t want to stop now.”

Taylor Teagarden started the eighth with a drive off Jerry Blevins for the Rangers’ first run. Crisp crashed into the center-field wall trying to make a leaping catch on Teagarden’s shot and was briefly down, but stayed in the game.

The A’s won for the ninth time in their last 10 day games and are a majors-best 26-11 in the afternoon. This was originally scheduled as a night game but was changed for TV.

“Even television’s trying to give them a chance,” Rangers manager Ron Washington quipped. “Son of a gun. They’re out to get us.”

Texas lost for only the eighth time in 22 games since the All-Star break. The Rangers couldn’t get their offense going against Gonzalez after collecting 22 runs and 33 hits in their previous three games. David Murphy hit a ninth-inning RBI single.

Texas’ 9-game division lead to start the day was the second-largest in franchise history.

Matt Watson added an RBI double in the sixth for the A’s, driving in speedy Rajai Davis from first. Crisp hit his second sacrifice fly two batters later.

Harden (4-4) was already long gone. Things didn’t start well for the right-hander, who beat the Angels last Saturday in Anaheim in his first start back from the disabled list following a strained muscle in left buttocks.

He allowed an infield single to Crisp leading off the first and walked three of the next four A’s hitters, with Kevin Kouzmanoff drawing a bases-loaded walk to bring home Oakland’s first run. Ellis followed with a sacrifice fly.

“I didn’t give them opportunities to put the ball in play,” Harden said. ‘I felt decent warming up on the mound, I just struggled to find it. The last time it was just getting ahead of hitters. This time I had no feel whatsoever. They made me throw a lot of pitches. They waited me out.”

Harden threw 65 pitches over 2 1-3 innings in his shortest outing of 2010, a tough one to analyze considering he pitched well his last time out.

“His pitch count just got out of control. He could have used his slider if he could place his fastball,” Washington said. “He never got the chance to do that. He didn’t have the feel of it. … He just didn’t have it and I can’t put my finger on it.”

Gonzalez quickly found his groove, getting a 1-2-3 first on seven pitches. He allowed a pair of two-out singles in the second to Jorge Cantu and Murphy, but got Christian Guzman on an inning-ending strikeout.

Gonzalez received a mound visit in the fourth from pitching coach Curt Young following consecutive two-out walks to Nelson Cruz and Cantu, then got Murphy to ground out.

Cliff Pennington hit his seventh triple of the season to start the fourth, then scored on Crisp’s first sacrifice fly.

Crisp’s fourth homer of the year in the second was just his second RBI since the All-Star break. It was Oakland’s fourth homer in its last 12 games.

Teagarden earned another start at catcher for the Rangers a day after hitting a two-run homer. Washington talked to Bengie Molina about when he would play, and Molina will go Sunday.

NOTES: Davis stole his 33rd and 34th bases. … Injured Oakland closer and reigning AL Rookie of the Year Andrew Bailey reported feeling better but still wasn’t ready to resume his throwing routine as he rehabs from a right rib cage strain. He didn’t come out of his Wednesday catch session as well as he would have liked. … Another former A’s pitcher, Colby Lewis, starts Sunday’s series finale for Texas. … Washington is thrilled to hear the Rangers want ace Cliff Lee back beyond 2010 — and hopes the pitcher will decide to return. “That’s a decision the player has to make,” Washington said. “There’s going to be quite a bit of competition out there. I certainly hope he wants to stay with the Rangers.” … Mixed martial arts fighter Randy Couture, set to fight later Saturday at neighboring Oracle Arena, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. He stopped into Washington’s office before the game. Several Texas players were headed to the fight. “Randy, good luck,” Washington said. “Don’t hurt nobody.”

Updated August 7, 2010