Harden smokes Blue Jays
By KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency
|Athletics starter Rich Harden delivers a pitch to Blue Jays in Oakland, Calif., Aug. 19, 2011. (BECK DIEFENBACH/Reuters)
OAKLAND - At the MLB trade deadline in July, the Oakland Athletics thought they had a deal with the Boston Red Sox for starting pitcher Rich Harden, he of the amazing but oft-injured right arm.
When the Red Sox doctors got a look at Harden’s medical records, suddenly Boston wanted to change the deal. The A’s refused and the trade fell apart.
The Red Sox may be wishing they had asked for a second opinion.
Oh, Harden is always going to be a medical risk, but Saturday he showed that there is still a lot of magic in that mass of scar tissue otherwise known as his right shoulder. Harden led the A's to a 2-0 win against the Toronto Blue Jays while tossing a two-hit shutout over seven innings.
Harden threw a blanket over a Toronto offence that had produced 46 runs in its previous six games, striking out 11 on the way. The Victoria, B.C., native won his fourth game of the season and topped 10 strikeouts in a game for the first time since 2009.
The only window of opportunity the Jays had was wasted in the first inning. Toronto's Yunel Escobar hit a tapper back to the mound to lead off the game. Harden fumbled it and Escobar was safe on the error. Harden then got into deeper trouble by walking the next two batters, Eric Thames and Jose Bautista.
At that point, it was as if a switch went on in Harden’s head. He struck out the next three batters on eight swinging strikes and one weak foul.
“We created a tremendous opportunity for ourselves,” said Jays manager John Farrell. “But after an error and two walks, it took (Harden) nine more pitches to strike out the side.”
Harden's stuff was electric. If it wasn’t his mid-90s fastball that baffled the Jays hitters, it was a lethal slider with the bottom falling out of it.
In five of the seven innings he pitched, he got the final batter to strike out swinging. He ended the sixth inning with his 10th strikeout, a swing and miss by Colby Rasmus, with Jose Bautista on third base.
Josh Willingham delivered Oakland’s two runs with his 21st home run with two outs in the first off hard-luck Jays starter Brett Cecil.
“You look at the 1-0 fastball to Willingham and it was the difference in the game,” said Farrell. “A well-pitched game on both sides.
“(Cecil) did what he could to keep us in the ballgame by going seven and just giving up those two runs.”
Jemile Weeks led off the first with a walk. Cocoa Crisp lined out to shortstop and then Hideki Matsui hit a groundball down the first base line that Toronto's Adam Lind snared. Lind stepped on the bag at first, then threw to second to try to get Weeks at the back end of the double-play. The throw would have made it in time, but it hit Weeks and bounced into left field. That allowed Willingham to come to the plate and smash a Cecil offering out of the park to left.
That home run ruined what was a strong outing by Cecil, who allowed just four hits and five walks over seven innings. Certainly good enough to win on most nights.
“I thought I was really good,” said Cecil. “For once, the home run ball was down. (Willingham) just went down and got it. Good at-bat by him. Five walks but it didn’t hurt me.
“My job is to hold the club within three runs throughout the game and I can’t worry about what (the hitters) do. Obviously they’re frustrated by what happened tonight.
“You’re going to win those games more often than not.”
The Jays didn’t get their first hit until J.P. Arencibia singled into left field with one out in the fifth. Bautista later singled in the sixth inning and Brett Lawrie added a third hit off A's reliever Andrew Bailey in the ninth.
“(Harden) was outstanding,” said Farrell. “You can take the yearlong stats and set them aside. The way he pitched against us in Toronto (Aug. 9) and then again tonight ... when he’s on, he’s as good as anybody we’ll face.”