OAKLAND, Calif._The Oakland A's will come to the Coliseum on Wednesday morning as close to first place, 41/2 games, as to third place.
For a team that had the best record in baseball for most of the season, that's not a coveted position. It is the result of Tuesday's 6-5 loss to the third-place Seattle Mariners, the A's fifth loss in the last six games and 15th loss in their last 22 games.
And, oh, yeah. The A's get to match up Wednesday with Felix Hernandez, a longtime Oakland nemesis. The A's have hit him a little more than usual this year, but he's still 3-0 in four starts against Oakland.
Lefty ace Jon Lester goes for the A's, pitching in a streak where he's 7-2 in his last 14 starts with a 1.72 ERA.
It's kind of a game the A's need to win to chase down the first-place Los Angeles Angels. If the A's are going to make a move in the division, they need to make it soon with only 24 games remaining.
What Oakland doesn't need is another game like Tuesday, where the A's were down 2-0 after three innings, 4-0 after four and 6-0 after five. What they need are more innings like the eighth, when they scored three times, and the ninth, when they scored twice and brought the potential winning run to the plate.
To that point, they had not scored at all in seven innings and had just seven runs in 47 innings dating to last Thursday. Five of the seven runs came in the first inning Monday, leaving two runs scattered among the other 47 innings.
Still, manager Bob Melvin and the A's credited Mariners lefty James Paxton with simply pitching a gem.
"I think the starting pitcher had something to do with that, to tell you the truth," Melvin said of the first seven innings in which the A's had just four base runners. "We got really good at-bats after that. We had really good at-bats late in the game. Down 6-0, we continued to fight.
"When you're talking about early in the game, you're talking more about Paxton."
The Mariners hold the 25-year-old Paxton in the same high regard that the A's reserve for 24-year-old Sonny Gray. Both are pitchers with mounds of talent. Pitted against one another Tuesday, Paxton was the clear winner over Gray, who was the American League Pitcher of the Month in April (4-0) and July (5-0). Since July, he's fallen on some hard times, including the third inning Tuesday when back-to-back walks to open up led to a two-run single from Austin Jackson that put Oakland in a hole for good.
"I felt OK. I've definitely felt better," Gray said.
Told that his manager said he'd pitched better than his final numbers (five innings, six runs) showed, Gray just shrugged his shoulders and said: "The final numbers are all that matter."
Pitching coach Curt Young took it as one of those games.
"There's always going to be a couple of pitches you lose command of," Young said. "You hope you get away with those. He's been good with his stuff all year long."
The A's drove Paxton from the game in the eighth, scoring on a pinch-hit single by Adam Dunn and a two-run double by Craig Gentry. With two out in the ninth, Derek Norris, Brandon Moss and Sam Fuld backed up doubles to cut the deficit to a single run and bring the potential winning run to the plate.
Josh Reddick grounded out.
"We were one swing away," Norris said.
_The A's might get John Jaso back by this weekend, but in a limited role only. The left-handed hitting catcher, troubled for the second straight season by concussion issues, took batting practice with the club Tuesday and could be close to being activated, possibly for games this weekend against the Houston Astros. But he's likely only going to be used as a designated hitter or pinch-hitter, because the A's are concerned another foul ball off Jaso's mask could complicate the concussion issues.
_Coco Crisp had another round of trigger point injections in his neck, and the A's are hoping the shots will do what they did a month ago, loosen up his neck and allow him to play center field again. Melvin said there was no timetable yet for Crisp, but it seems unlikely he'd play Wednesday.