OAKLAND -- A couple of old friends did in the A's on Sunday, Kurt Suzuki with a tiebreaking double and Josh Willingham with a subsequent two-run homer in the eighth inning of a 6-1 Minnesota victory that ended Oakland's winning streak against the Twins at a dozen.
But the alumni association newsletter wasn't entirely full of grim tidings. Down in Anaheim, Yoenis Cespedes hit a three-run homer in the eighth inning for Boston as the Red Sox beat the Angels 3-1, preserving the A's four-game lead in the American League West.
"There you go," A's shortstop Jed Lowrie said of the Cespedes homer. "That would be considered helpful to our cause."
While the A's have the best record in baseball at 72-45, they aren't above finding a little help useful, particularly in the next week. They left after Sunday's game for a four-game set in Kansas City with the Royals, who are the hottest team in baseball, having won 10 of their last 11. The A's handed them their only loss in that stretch, Aug. 2 in Oakland, but also lost two pitchers' duels.
"They have some of the best starting pitching in baseball," first baseman Stephen Vogt said, to which third baseman Josh Donaldson said, the Royals, top to bottom, "are as tough as it gets" as a foe. And Lowrie said the K.C. bullpen "is one of the best, if not the best, in the American League."
The two teams come into this series from entirely different routes. Much like the A's did with Texas two years ago, the Royals are trying to run down the Tigers in the American League Central in the final two months of the season. The A's are trying to ride a wave that has seen them in first place in the A.L. West every day since April 28.
"It'll be a big series for us," second baseman Eric Sogard said. "Especially coming into the last couple of months, wanting to turn it on and play our game."
Minnesota starter Phil Hughes turned out to be a mean customer, and the A's offense went nowhere after Vogt's RBI single in the first inning.
Jason Hammel, the Oakland starter, built on the 52/3 shutout innings he threw against Tampa Bay his last time out, throwing 62/3 innings this time, allowing just a first-inning homer to Brian Dozier.
Manager Bob Melvin said of Hammel, "He was better this time; this was his best start yet with us."
Hammel, while pleased that his slider and his sinking two-seam fastball are now producing the ground balls he likes to induce, would have liked to go deeper into the game. But he said he was back to "trusting my stuff and really competing out there."
The game got away from the A's in the eighth inning, and it all started with an infield hit that was close enough at first base that Melvin contemplated challenging the call. He didn't, probably correctly, and Suzuki came up later in the inning to break the tie with a double off the left field wall, and Willingham hit a home run over the same edifice to make it 4-1.
The decisive inning came against Luke Gregerson, who had been simply spectacular of late. He came into the game unscored upon in 15 games dating to June 25. It was just one of those days, and if Twins leadoff man Danny Santana had been called out at first, the Twins likely wouldn't have scored off Gregerson.
That one in the books, the A's packed up and headed to the Midwest and their meeting with the Royals expecting big things.
"I don't feel like we need to make any statements," Donaldson said. "I feel like we need to go out and play good baseball. I feel like if we play good baseball, we'll win. If not, we'll lose."
Abad has not allowed any of his 21 inherited runners to score this season.
A's (Sonny Gray 12-5) at Kansas City (Yordano Ventura 9-8), 5:10 p.m. CSNCA