Oakland A's Steam Through July

Dan Johnson and Nick Swisher both had big Julys.

The Oakland A's 5-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers finished off their red-hot month of July in appropriately winning fashion. They end July in first place in the Wild Card race and a mere 1.5 games behind the Angels for first place in the AL West. We take a look back at the month of July and relive some of the highlights.

The A's began the month of July on a roll. They had a seven game winning streak to end the month of June, a month that saw the A's win 19 times after winning only seven times in May. Oakland entered July with a 38-40 record and in third place in the division. They would finish July with a 58-46 record after going an amazing 20-6 in July and a mere 1.5 games behind the Angels in the West. Here are some of the factors that propelled the A's to their successful July run:

-- A nine-game stretch between July 1-10 that pitted the A's against baseball's best team (the Chicago White Sox) and a wild card contender (the Toronto Blue Jays). Oakland won six of those nine games to put them above .500 for good and to give the A's a boost heading into the All-Star break. Most impressive was the A's 4-2 record on a six-game road trip to Toronto and Chicago. Two of those four wins came in extra innings after the A's had blown leads in the ninth inning, demonstrating the team's resolve.

--The acquisitions of Jay Payton, Jay Witasick and Joe Kennedy for Chad Bradford, Eric Byrnes and Omar Quintanilla. Oakland did its mid-season dealing early, as GM Billy Beane used the All-Star break to acquire three players to help the A's depth. All three players have played significant roles in the A's run in July. Payton has been the biggest star, as the veteran outfielder has hit .333 with five HR and 14 RBI in the 13 games he has appeared in since joining the A's on July 14. The importance of his presence on the team was exemplified when he filled in for Mark Kotsay in centerfield in five straight games on the A's most recent home-stand. Oakland won four of those five games. Witasick and Kennedy have been solid additions to the A's bullpen. Since joining Oakland, Witasick has appeared in seven games and has a 1-0 record with a save and a 3.10 ERA. His most impressive outing was on July 23 when he struck out the side against the Texas Rangers in Arlington to bridge the gap to Huston Street in the A's 5-4 win. Kennedy has given the A's quality middle relief innings since arriving on the scene. He has thrown more than two innings in four of his five appearances, including two outings of 3.2 innings. Since allowing two runs in his first 1.2 innings with the team, Kennedy has allowed only one run in his last 13 innings. He has one win, which he earned after throwing three shut-out innings in the A's 5-4, 14-inning win over Texas on July 17.

-- Rich Harden and Barry Zito go for no-hitters on back-to-back nights. The All-Star break could have zapped the A's momentum, but staff aces Harden and Zito ensured that the A's push towards contention would not be slowed. The two starters took no-hitters into the 8th inning on consecutive nights against the hot-hitting Texas Rangers, giving the A's two commanding victories over their division foe to start the second half. Both pitchers were instrumental to the A's rise in July. Harden went 5-1 with a 2.77 ERA and Zito went a perfect 6-0 with a 2.51 ERA for the month.

-- Bobby Kielty goes deep in the 14th inning to give the A's a walk-off win over Texas. Oakland dropped the game after Harden and Zito's gems, so they needed a victory over the Rangers that Sunday to secure the series win. Oakland was down two going into the bottom of the 8th, but they clawed back to tie the game with single runs in the 8th and 9th innings. However, they couldn't break through against Texas until the 14th inning, when Kielty took Kameron Loe deep to win the game. Kielty would homer again on July 27 as part of another A's late-game comeback, this time against the Cleveland Indians. After a horrendous first season with Oakland, Kielty has been a steady force for the A's all season.

-- A's go 5-1 on a six-game road-trip against the Angels and the Rangers. Before the A's traveled to Anaheim and Arlington in mid-July, many pundits questioned whether the A's hot play in June and early July would translate against the top teams in the AL West. They got their answer in emphatic fashion from July 19-24, as Oakland won five straight after dropping the first game of the road-trip. Excellent starting pitching gave the A's the edge over the Angels in their three-game set and the A's used offense and an amazing defensive play by Jason Kendall to sweep the Rangers in Arlington. Kendall's play was the defining moment of the road-trip and could be the defining moment of the A's season. To recap, the A's were clinging to a one-run lead over the Rangers in the ninth inning with two-outs and Michael Young at third and Alfonso Soriano at the plate. Reliever Justin Duchscherer bounced the 1-2 pitch and Young came steaming home. Kendall grabbed the ball on a hop and dove face-first towards home, tagging Young to end the game. The A's would take the next two games to finish off an improbable four-game sweep of the Rangers in Texas.

-- Huston Street doesn't crumble under the pressure. The A's rookie closer had a rough start to his July, as he blew two saves in three opportunities. However, Oakland won both of the games in which Street blew a save and the rookie recovered to convert his next four opportunities. Street's most impressive performance may have been during the outing in which he blew his second save of July. Street gave up two runs to the Chicago White Sox to send the July 10th game into extra-innings. However, he recovered to throw shut-out innings in the next two frames, giving the A's a chance to win the game in 11. That win gave the A's a winning record heading into the break and a sweep of the American League's best team, the White Sox. For the month of July, Street went 2-0 with five saves and a 1.20 ERA. He allowed only 11 hits and one walk over 15 innings pitched.

-- Rookies Nick Swisher and Dan Johnson lead the way on offense. The A's scored more runs than any other American League team in July and the rookie combination of Swisher and Johnson had a lot to do with the A's offensive output. Swisher posted a 913 OPS for the month of July, as he hit .276 with six homers and 21 runs batted in. He played in every game in July and collected at least one hit in all but six of them. Johnson, who is only in his second month in the majors, was similarly impressive. The big first baseman hit an astounding .363 with a 1063 OPS for the month of July. He hit four homers and drove in 12. Perhaps most impressive was Johnson's ability to work a walk. He drew 11 base on balls and struck out only nine times. Johnson reached base in eight straight plate appearances on July 27-28. Both he and Swisher should receive strong consideration for Rookie of the Month for July. Fellow A's rookie Joe Blanton took home the award in June.

-- The outstanding play of Mark Ellis. The A's weren't sure what they were going to get from Ellis when the season started. The plucky middle infielder missed all of the 2004 season with a shoulder separation and the A's were cautious about giving Ellis too much playing time to start the season. However, after receiving only 46 at-bats in June, Ellis was given more playing time in July and he responded in a big way. The Florida alum hit .323 with two homers and 14 runs batted in. He filled in for Mark Kotsay in the second spot in the order and also contributed at the bottom of the A's order, sparking numerous rallies. Ellis also played his typical outstanding defense, as he and shortstop Bobby Crosby helped the A's pitching staff by turning more double-plays than any other team in July.

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