Kansas City, Mo. Tommy Milone shut out the Kansas City Royals for eight innings, and then got in just enough trouble in the ninth to ensure that Grant Balfour would have a nice, easy save chance.
A save that will go down in Oakland history, too.
Balfour gave up a run-scoring single to Billy Butler before retiring the final two batters of the game Friday night, preserving the A’s 6-3 victory and notching his 40th consecutive save to tie Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley’s franchise record.
“You know, it’s an accomplishment. Definitely,” Balfour said. “I don’t like to look into it too much — I’m superstitious, obviously. But I never knew about this, and it’s not something I set out to do. It just happened. I still have a lot of work to do.”
Balfour has 22 saves this season to match the mark that Eckersley set from Sept. 15, 1991-Aug. 7, 1992, this one helping the A’s (51-36) win for the seventh time in their last nine games.
“That’s pretty remarkable, but when you look at Grant, it’s not surprising what he’s able to do,” Milone said. “That’s pretty cool for him. I’m happy.”
Happy enough to get into trouble in the ninth for him?
“We can go there if you want,” Milone said, grinning. “Yeah, I guess.”
Milone (8-7) was in control before Alcides Escobar and Eric Hosmer drove in runs to get the Royals within 6-2 with one out in the ninth. Balfour came on and gave up the single to Butler, but he managed to retire Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas to end the game.
“Like him, I don’t like to talk about it a whole lot, but you’re asking me the question,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said of Balfour’s save streak. “Pretty phenomenal.”
Milone, who had been battered in his last three starts, outpitched Wade Davis (4-7) in another strong night from Oakland’s pitching staff. The A’s had put together 18 1-3 innings without giving up a run before the Royals plated their three in the ninth.
Milone was two outs shy of racking up Oakland’s third shutout in its last eight games.
“A tough eight innings. Tommy Milone was really on top of his game,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “What makes him so tough on nights like tonight, he can command his fastball to both sides of the plate, but when that changeup is on, it’s almost unhittable.”
The recent history for Milone and Davis pointed to runs-a-plenty on Friday night. Milone had been struggling lately, and Davis was yanked after one-plus inning last Saturday.
So naturally, the two of them took turns mowing through hitters.
Milone retired his first 11 batters, and only twice allowed a ball to get out of the infield through the first three innings. The left-hander finally gave up a single to Hosmer with two outs in the fourth, but that was it until David Lough’s two-out single in the sixth.
“We were just trying to take pitches and try to see as many pitches as possible,” said the Royals’ Lorenzo Cain, “but he was pounding the zone.”
Davis only needed 10 pitches to get through the first inning against Oakland, and the right-hander set down nine straight before Josh Reddick’s double in the third. Eric Sogard came through with a timely single to shallow left field that gave the scrappy A’s a 1-0 lead.
Davis cruised through the fourth, and then issued a leadoff walk to John Jaso in the fifth. Reddick followed with a triple to right, and he scampered home on Coco Crisp’s sacrifice fly.
The A’s added three more in the ninth, two of them when Cain misplayed a line drive in right field that bounced off his glove — “I just flat-out missed it,” he said.
The Royals tried to rally in the ninth behind back-to-back doubles by Lough and Escobar, and consecutive singles by Hosmer and Butler. But the unflappable Balfour got Cain and Moustakas on harmless groundouts to record his historic save.
“I hope you’re not jinxing him by talking about it,” Reddick said with a smile.