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Colon edges Locke, with help from outfield, 'pen

Run-saving catch, record-breaking save tilt pitchers' duel in A's favor

PITTSBURGH -- Grant Balfour's save Monday night in Pittsburgh may have been record-breaking, but Coco Crisp's was applauded just the same in a 2-1 A's victory.

Oakland's outfielder made a sensational diving catch to his right on an Andrew McCutchen liner with two outs that prevented at least one run -- maybe two -- from crossing the plate in the seventh, preserving a one-run lead and another Bartolo Colon win.

Crisp's heroics in no way took away from Balfour's historic feat, with the A's closer picking up his 41st consecutive save dating back to last year to pass the Oakland record of 40 previously held by Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, but it at least spread the attention around.

That is how Balfour, who does not enjoy talking about himself, likes it.

And everyone in the visitor's clubhouse at PNC Park understood that perhaps Balfour would not even have been standing on the mound in the ninth on this night had Crisp not stood at the spot from which he lunged in the air to make the catch.

"I think that's where the game was decided, to tell you the truth," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "There was more game to be played after that, but if that ball gets by him, it's a different game. When he hit it, I didn't think he had a chance to get to it; I really didn't. And I've been around Coco long enough to know he can get to some balls. But that one was terrific. That's the play of the year."

"That was the key to the game," added Colon, through A's coach and translator Ariel Prieto. "When the ball was hit off the bat, I would have never imagined he was going to catch that. But then I saw him running, and he got it. Three times I said, 'Thank you,' when we were coming back to the dugout."

Crisp deflected much of the praise sent his way, casually telling reporters, "I mean, it wasn't that difficult of a play, just a diving play. He hit the ball well, and I was just able to make the play."

So he knew from the moment bat met ball there was an out to be made?

"I knew before he hit it," Crisp said, smiling, "that it was going to go right there and I was going to make the play."

That's just the way things are going for these first-place A's, who have now won nine of 12 and stand a season-high 16 games above .500 with a 53-37 ledger, their best mark after 90 games since 1990 (57-33).

Oakland managed just three hits off tough lefty Jeff Locke but also tallied three walks, and together they resulted in plenty of support for the 40-year-old Colon, who mostly cruised through seven innings for his 12th victory.

Oakland's lone All-Star scattered seven hits in that time, walking just one while fanning five and totaling 108 pitches. He stranded eight on base, including two in the seventh, when he got more than a little help from Crisp. His ERA is down to 2.69.

"I've never had a year like this," Colon said. "I believe this year is my best year. It was always in my thoughts, but I never imagined having the kind of numbers that I do right now before the All-Star break."

The not-so-secret secret, he says, is "working hard."

"He probably has one of the best personalities I've ever played with," Crisp said. "He just goes about his day and does the best he can and doesn't let too many things bother him. He's been doing good for us the whole year and is fun to play behind."

Jed Lowrie was responsible for two of the A's three hits, and he scored the first run of the game in the fourth on Josh Donaldson's sacrifice fly, before Oakland added on in the seventh by way of Derek Norris' bases-loaded walk. Grant Green went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in his Major League debut.

Everything added up to a one-run save opportunity for Balfour, whose 41 straight saves include 18 involving one-run leads.

"He's had a ton of tense ones," Melvin said. "That's what he's built for. He does kind of thrive on not giving up anything."

Jane Lee is a reporter for Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB.
Read More: Oakland Athletics, Bartolo Colon, Grant Balfour, Coco Crisp