Inside Pitch: Kotsay A Keeper

Inside Pitch: Kotsay A Keeper

"It's a relaxing day and a joyful day to know that I'm going to be in the A's uniform," centerfielder Mark Kotsay said. "We can put everything else behind us. Anytime your name goes out in trade rumors, there's two ways to look at it. One is the disappointment that you might leave an organization. Two, a compliment that other teams appreciate and value what you do."

Mark Kotsay isn't going anywhere the next month or the next three years. The trade rumors circling around him for the last month ended July 9 when the he agreed to a new three-year contract to stay with the A's through the 2008 season.

"There's obviously a lot of rumors about me going a lot of places. But I wanted to be an Oakland A, and want to win a championship here," said Kotsay.

Kotsay said the trade rumors were never a distraction to him, but his teammates didn't like hearing them.

"You try to ignore the trade rumors, but it's something I'm sure none of the guys wanted to happen -- I know I didn't," shortstop Bobby Crosby said. "Just knowing he's going to be here, and the type of team we're going to have, is exciting. We're going to be a really good team the next couple years and he's a big part of it."

General manager Billy Beane first talked to Kotsay in April about an extension, but a clause in Kotsay's contract -- which would allow him to become a free agent a year earlier -- provided an excuse to not wait until the offseason to begin negotiations.

"Mark really wanted to stay in Oakland and proved it with this," Beane said. "I don't think Mark had any insecurities about what his abilities would command on the open market. You always hear from a player, `we will take less to stay.' In Mark's case, it's my opinion that he did just that."

Beane said the A's turnaround in June didn't have an impact on the extension because, "if you're rebuilding or a contender, Mark is the type of player you absolutely need to have."

Street Stands Up To Big Frank...And Wins

Huston Street cleared another major hurdle in his baptism by fire as closer in the major leagues Friday night, and added another chapter to his growing legend.

It was Street's fifth save since becoming the A's closer, and while he's had longer saves and a smaller margin for error, the atmosphere at U.S. Cellular Field and the final hitter made this the most impressive yet.

Frank Thomas was given a standing ovation when he moved into the on-deck circle as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning. The 33,623 fans remained on their feet as Thomas stepped into the batter's box with two outs, representing the tying run.

Street: 6-0 and 185 pounds, age 21, in his 34th career appearance.

Thomas: 6-5 and 257 pounds, age 37, with 447 career homers and the best homer/at-bat ratio in the majors this year.

Street jumped ahead with a strike, missed with two sliders, threw a tailing fastball at the knees for strike two, then pulled the string on a changeup that had Thomas way out in front whiffing to end the ballgame.

"It was pretty impressive," shortstop Bobby Crosby said. "You won't get too much of a bigger atmosphere. Everybody is going crazy and you have one of the biggest power guys in baseball at the plate. He put the ball where he wanted and didn't make Frank look too good."

Added Justin Duchscherer, who pitched two important innings to setup Street: "You have to be freakin' kidding me, the guy is amazing. He was pitching in college last year. It took me eight years to get here."

Street's legend grew a little more two days later when he recovered from blowing a save against those same White Sox to work two more scoreless innings and nail down the A's 9-8 win.

Kid Canada Struggles At Home

Rich Harden hadn't pitched this bad since ... well, the last time he was back in his home country. But the native of British Columbia insisted there's nothing different about pitching in Canada and that wasn't the reason he struggled Thursday night.

With no idea where his fastball was going, Harden walked six batters in five-plus innings Thursday in Toronto's 4-2 win over the A's.

Harden, who allowed just one earned run and three walks combined in his previous three starts, walked six in five-plus inning.

The game turned on two plays in the fifth inning. Harden was one out from ending the inning when Frank Catalanotto hit a ball into shallow left field. It was a tough play as Eric Byrnes had to run a long way, but the ball deflected off his glove for a double.

"It was tough because it was in between," Byrnes said. "I wasn't quite sure if I would have to dive for it or run through it. At the last second, it dropped off the table and I wasn't able to get it."

Harden (5-4) was still one strike away from escaping the inning, but left a 2-2 forkball in Vernon Wells' wheelhouse and Wells crushed a three-run homer just inside the left-field foul pole.

Two more walks to begin the sixth ended Harden's night at 110 pitches.

"It was one of those games where I don't know where I'm throwing the ball," Harden said. "The last few innings, I really didn't know where the ball was going. It's always something mechanical. I'll try to figure it out during the All-Star break."

In Short

--RF Nick Swisher's extra work before every game in the outfield paid off Friday. Swisher nearly got a forceout at second on a single to right field, then threw out Timo Perez at second base on what looked like a sure double. Swisher believes it's his first outfield assist in the majors that didn't involve the assistance of a relay man.

--DH Erubiel Durazo is taking batting practice off coaches in Arizona and will remain there through the All-Star break.

--RHP Craig Italiano, a second-round draft pick from Flower Mound High in Texas, signed with the A's and will report to the Arizona rookie league squad.

--RHP Jared Lansford, a second-round pick from nearby St. Francis High in Mountain View and the son of former A's third baseman Carney Lansford, signed with the A's on Thursday. He flew to Arizona to begin his minor league career.

--C Jason Kendall stole his sixth base of the season in the first inning Thursday, just the 19th of the year by the A's. They added two more steals over the weekend, but opponents had stolen 66 bases against the A's through Sunday.

--A couple of old friends, Ted Lilly and Frank Menechino, played big roles in knocking the A's back under .500 -- just one day after they finally reached that mark -- with Toronto's 8-0 win.

"I have a lot of friends over there, so it's a lot like a pickup game," said Menechino, who reached base all four times, scored two runs and drove in a run. "It's sweet to win. It's fun to see them. We don't seem them much. You like to play good against your friends."

Lilly and two relievers authored the seventh shutout against the A's this year, but first since May 8 at Yankee Stadium.

"There's a lot of guys over there that I'm still friends with," Lilly said. "Whenever you're going against your friends, it's fun. You definitely don't want them to get the best of you because they have all the bragging rights."

The A's had all the bragging rights lately. Lilly brought a 7.78 ERA against the A's into the start, his highest ERA against any AL opponent.

"Get that back for a little while is fun," Lilly said. "It's not like they are trash talking. It's more for fun, especially (Eric) Byrnes. He doesn't mind having fun with it and I don't blame him."

--1B Dan Johnson walked twice and singled against Toronto LHP Ted Lilly on Wednesday. In six career plate appearances against Lilly, Johnson has yet to be retired.

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