ATLANTA -- Not even a big gift from an old compadre was enough to hoist the A's out of their struggles Sunday night, as a national television audience saw Oakland's offense trip over itself in a 4-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves. It was the A's season-worst fifth consecutive loss.
Earlier in the day, former A's infielder Adam Rosales, now playing for the Texas Rangers, had delivered a walk-off hit against the Los Angeles Angels, the team that had moved into first place by percentage points ahead of Oakland atop the American League West on Saturday.
That meant the A's, who were throwing their top starter, Jon Lester, could move back to a one-game lead by salvaging the final game of a weekend set with the Braves.
It didn't happen. Lester came into the game having allowed one homer in his previous 11 starts, eight with the Red Sox and three with the A's. He gave up two Sunday, a tiebreaking two-run shot by Justin Upton in the fourth and a solo blast from Chris Johnson in the seventh.
"This team is too good to stay in this funk," Lester said after his first loss since joining the A's at the trade deadline. "We get to go home tonight, get an off day, recharge the batteries a little bit and get back at it on Tuesday."
The key to the game was Lester's 0-2 pitch to Upton in the fourth. Lester threw the pitch he wanted, and the left fielder didn't miss it.
"I thought it was a good pitch when I threw it," Lester said. "I went back and looked at the video. Sometimes you have to tip your cap."
Lester needed to have his best game, and it was a problem when it wasn't there because the Oakland offense continued to get swallowed up in an August sinkhole. Nate Freiman whacked solo homers in the second and seventh innings off lefty Mike Minor, but everybody else was MIA for Oakland, which went 1-6 on the trip through Kansas City and Atlanta.
The loss left the A's with a 73-51 record and a .589 winning percentage. The Angels are 72-50, leaving them .001 ahead. That leaves Oakland in the odd position of having the most wins in the majors but technically not in first place in its division.
Still, the A's are in a virtual tie in the West despite getting swept this weekend, and that's something, Lester said.
"That's obviously the positive of it," he said. "And we've got to take all the positives we can right now. We need to grind. That's all we can do."
For a second consecutive night the A's were held to three runs, which is an ongoing and ugly pattern. In 17 August games, they've scored three runs or fewer 13 times, one reason the club is 7-10 for the month. At the same time, the A's have been held to six hits or fewer in 10 of the 17 games, including five times on this trip.
"Guys are competing," Lester said. "We're just not getting results right now. The times that we need to get a guy in, we're just not doing it. The times we need to make a pitch, we're not doing it."
Manager Bob Melvin, unhappy with the way the A's played Friday, liked more of what he saw Saturday and Sunday. The swings were better, the contact was solid more often than not. But a loss is a loss.
"We've come up a little short (the last two nights)," Melvin said. "Unfortunately, that's where we are right now.
"This is the first bad road trip we've had this year. This was not a good trip. We've got to go home, and we've got to regroup."
N.Y. Mets (Dillon Gee 4-5) at A's (Scott Kazmir 13-5), 7:05 p.m. CSNCA