Inside Pitch: Pitching Staff Stars

In college, Kirk Saarloos said he threw a true slider, but admitted his curveball these days is "not what you would call a quality big-league pitch." Messing around with different grips during his side session, Saarloos liked the action he was getting on what he called a slurve. He wasn't sure how much he would use it in his June 23 start.

But the first few were good, and catcher Jason Kendall kept calling it, so he kept throwing it.

Saarloos ended up throwing a complete-game shutout over Seattle and struck out seven, including the side in the fourth inning, and Richie Sexson four times.

It was all the more remarkable considering Saarloos didn't strike out a single batter in any of his previous three starts. In his previous six games, including two relief appearances, he'd struck out two batters in 25 innings, and had just 14 overall in 66.1 innings entering the start.

"I wanted to get something that had some depth, and something where I might get a swing and miss," said Saarloos, guessing three of the whiffs were on the slurve. "I used it a lot. It seemed to work, just to get something where they swing and miss, then locate my fastball after that."

Saarloos previously lasted between five and six innings in 11 of 13 starts, the exceptions being 3.2 innings on April 11 and 6.1 innings his previous start. He threw over 85 pitches just two times before this start (95 and 110).

He threw 127 pitches to go the distance in the complete-game effort. Pitching coach Curt Young came to him after the seventh inning, asking if he had another inning in him.

"I told him, 'yeah, I have two more in me,'" Saarloos said. "After the eighth, I took a peak (at the scoreboard) and saw I had 110 pitches. If it's up to me, I want to go out -- like anybody else with a chance at a shutout. Curt said, 'if you feel good, you've got the ninth.'

"Of course I'm not going to turn that down."

Blanton Blossoming

RHP Joe Blanton has rewarded the A's for their patience. The team was close to sending the 24-year-old rookie to the minors after he posted a 12.13 ERA over a six-start stretch through May 30, but Blanton turned his season around just in time.

After allowing no earned runs in eight innings of a 4-3 victory over the Giants on Friday night, Blanton improved to 4-1 with a 2.02 ERA over his last five starts.

"He's been real consistent these last four or five starts," catcher Jason Kendall said. "Every game he just gets more confidence. He's got a lot of poise on the mound. He doesn't act like he only has 15 starts."

Blanton needed just 85 pitches against the Giants, 61 of which he threw for strikes. He did not allow a hit until the fourth inning and would not have allowed any runs if not for Eric Chavez's two-out seventh-inning error, which preceded Pedro Feliz's three-run homer.

"I can't believe it's the same kid we saw the other time," Giants manager Felipe Alou said of Blanton, who didn't get through the fifth last month in San Francisco. "He threw strikes. He threw well. He's won four games since the last time we saw him. He was on his way to the minor leagues and all of the sudden? That's what you want to see."

Hardluck Barry

It wasn't uncommon that Barry Zito was locked in another pitchers' duel Wednesday night, since exactly half of his 16 starts this season have had the slimmest of margin for error.

Six previous times this season, Zito has gone into the sixth inning or later, either trailing or leading 1-0, or with the game scoreless. Zito emerged with a loss in all six games.

This time, Zito took a two-hit shutout into the seventh inning and left with a 3-1 lead in the eighth, only to watch the Seattle Mariners tie the game with two outs in the ninth inning, the A's to rally for a run in the 12th, then Bobby Crosby's error opened the floodgates and the Mariners scored two runs in their half for a wild 5-4 win.

Ryan Glynn (0-4) appeared to have the game closed out when Ichiro Suzuki hit a comebacker for a would-be, game-ending double play. Glynn made a throw to second base, which was at Crosby's waist, making him unsure which way to turn his glove to catch it.

"I took my eye off it," Crosby said. "I was concerned with getting two because Ichiro was running and I knew I had to hurry. I took my eye of it and it hit me in the hand. I looked up a half second to early and missed it. It was a good feed. I flat-out missed it."

Randy Winn then bounced a chopper over Chavez's head at third to score Pat Borders and tie the game. Adrian Beltre struck out for the second out, then Richie Sexson hit a single to left.

Byrnes was playing deep and fielded the ball on one hop, he made a fairly strong throw, but it wasn't in time to get the speedy Suzuki for the game winner.

Glynn blamed himself, pointing to an 0-2 curveball to Borders that started the rally.

"I really wanted to step up for the team right there," Glynn said. "We didn't turn the double-play ball, but I had Borders 0-2 and I should put him away. He shouldn't be on base. I hung a curveball. We shouldn't be in that spot. It should be nobody on and two outs."

BY THE NUMBERS: 26-24 -- Athletics' all-time record in interleague play against the cross-bay rival Giants. The A's won this year's series, 4-2, with a weekend sweep in Oakland. It was just the second sweep by either team.

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