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'Pen helps A's survive Kazmir's shaky seventh frame

Doolittle notches save, sets Oakland record for saves by a lefty

OAKLAND -- Through six innings at the Coliseum on Friday, Scott Kazmir seemed destined for his second career shutout, and the A's were sailing toward the finish line.

Things got thorny in the seventh when Kazmir unraveled, but the A's held on, 6-5, to take a 2-0 advantage in their four-game series against the Twins. With the Angels falling to Boston, the A's expanded their division lead to four games, the largest it has been in a month.

Oakland's offense broke out against Kyle Gibson, helping Kazmir notch his 13th victory despite his seventh-inning struggle. Coco Crisp's three-run triple in the fifth was the first and biggest blow, and Eric Sogard added a two-run double in the sixth as the A's scored more than three runs for the first time in six games.

"[Gibson] was dealing, and then really the hit by Coco sent him into a different direction," said manager Bob Melvin. "A lot of times there's one or two at-bats in the course of a game that have a little more oomph behind them than others, and that was huge."

Crisp was 5-for-43 when he came to bat with no outs and the bases loaded and, with two strikes, he roped a fastball into the right-center field gap for his second triple of 2014. Crisp later came home on a passed ball to cap a four-run fifth.

"Any given night it could be anybody," Crisp said. "Fortunately, I was able to find a gap and knock a few runs in."

Gibson, who walked five, was removed with two runners on in the sixth, but Sogard also found the right-center gap off Anthony Swarzak to put the A's ahead 6-0. Sogard improved to 13-for-39 since the All-Star break.

Kazmir was a strike-throwing machine from the outset, and he did not allow a baserunner until the fifth. He began the seventh at 61 pitches -- and then, suddenly, everything changed.

Five of seven hitters reached in the frame against Kazmir, whose night concluded on a two-run double by Chris Parmelee to bring Minnesota within two. Eduardo Nunez added a double off Ryan Cook to make it 6-5, and the Twins emerged from a 19-inning scoreless slumber.

"They put some good swings on the ball," said Kazmir, "but at the same time instead of making those quality pitches when I'm ahead in the count, I was just leaving it up and they were putting good swings to it."

"Maybe he just got some balls up in that inning, which is completely the opposite of the way he was pitching the whole game," Melvin said. "Up until that point, he was as good as we've seen him pitch all year."

It was the second straight underwhelming performance by Kazmir, who gave up five runs on five hits in 6 2/3 innings. The left-hander now has nine runs to his name in his last two starts, after allowing just five in his previous five.

But his offense and his bullpen bailed him out. Cook stranded a man on second to end the seventh, Luke Gregerson held down the eighth, and Sean Doolittle earned his 18th save, breaking the A's record for saves by a lefty set by Alan Embree in 2007.

Former A's outfielder Josh Willingham almost gave Minnesota the lead off Doolittle when he cranked one down the left field line, but for a second straight day, a near-Twins homer landed foul.

"So far this series, our grounds crew has done a great job of putting the foul pole in a good spot," Doolittle joked.

The A's bullpen set a record of its own: 28 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, the most ever by an Oakland relieving corps.

"That's good, right?" Melvin said. "Since we kind of figured out where the roles were, they can prepare a little better, they know when the phone rings who's coming in the game. It took us a little while to get there, but we've got a lot of quality down there, and depth -- the whole bit. It's quite a feat."

Oakland moved to a season-high 27 games over .500 and has taken 11 straight contests against the Twins.

Aaron Leibowitz is an associate reporter for
Read More: Oakland Athletics, Eric Sogard, Scott Kazmir, Coco Crisp