With the White Sox down 5-1 and looking lifeless for the previous few innings, Jose Abreu showed that a slugger can serve as a spark plug.
Leading off the ninth, Abreu hit a rocket homer to right field to knock Oakland starter Jesse Chavez out of the game. Three relievers and three runs later, the Sox had two shots at driving in the tying run. Sean Doolittle shut the door, though, striking out pinch-hitting Tyler Flowers and hitting-for-himself Leury Garcia to end the game.
Abreu's homer was impressive, but it didn't look like it would accomplish much at the start. But when Sanchez exited and LOOGY Fernando Abad walked Adam Dunn, the wheels started turning. In came Jim Johnson, who gave up a double to Dayan Viciedo and a single to Alexei Ramirez, putting runners on the corners with still nobody out.
Bob Melvin had to go back to his bullpen, this time bringing in his best reliever, Sean Doolittle. He acted the part, retiring pinch-hitting Paul Konerko on a sac fly, and, after a Ramirez stolen base, striking out Flowers and Garcia to end the game.
The game probably shouldn't have come down to Garcia, but a couple questionable-at-best choices blew up in Robin Ventura's face. The first was to bat Garcia at the top of the order in search of "spark," which an 0-for-5 night failed to provide. The second? Garcia hit for himself because Ventura burned up his last reserve outfielder by pinch-running Moises Sierra for Dunn. That move didn't make a whole lot of sense, considering he represented only the second of four runs needed to extend the game. Moreover, Sierra could only get to third on Viciedo's double, which is exactly what Dunn would've done.
Having a better right-handed option against Doolittle would've been nice, especially one who could play outfield. Instead, Ventura had to choose between letting Garcia hit, or playing somebody grossly out of position. He chose the first option, which is understandable, and Garcia swung at a pitch at his forehead for strike three.
The near-comeback made Daniel Webb's wildness more costly. He entered in the seventh of a 3-1 game and struck out Nick Punto on a generous third strike (way to be, Adrian Nieto), but when Josh Reddick dropped a bunt single against a shift, Webb let the inning get away from him. He walked Craig Gentry, and then gave up a well-struck double to Jed Lowrie to drive in both runs.
That wasn't the end of Webb's problems, but teammates picked him up. Gordon Beckham and Ramirez ended one inning with a glorious 4-6-3 double play, featuring some incredible eye-hand-foot coordination by the shortstop. And after Webb started the eighth and walked both batters, Scott Downs found a way to strand those runners to keep the game within a slam.
Not that a slam seemed likely, as the A's looked like they just wore the Sox down over the first eight innings. They made John Danks throw 20 pitches an inning over through five, with Josh Donaldson striking for a two-run homer before Danks could record the final out of the fifth. Danks ended up finishing six on just 16 more pitches, although a fortuitous 3-unassisted double play by Dunn kept the pitch count from really getting out of hand.
On the other side of the line score, the Sox couldn't find any offense outside of Viciedo's majestic solo shot to right-center in the second inning. Conor Gillaspie came up to the plate a couple times with runners in scoring position, but he aimed his line drives poorly -- one to second, and one to center, ending both threats. After the latter close call in the fifth, Chavez then made it through the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings on 25 pitches combined.
*Garcia also made his first appearance in center field, and he got caught too close to the wall on an extra-base hit, turning a double into a triple. The run that resulted would have scored either way, though.
*Abreu had two ugly strikeouts before his homer, which is kind of his game these days.