OAKLAND -- It is generally agreed that Trevor Cahill has been a very useful piece of an often suspect Oakland A's rotation. I mean, Sean Manaea is not starting every second day, and Edwin Jackson has only so much trickeration to go around for the benefit of his 13th team.
Saturday, though, was Cahill's masterwork by any metric analysis, and it came at one of the dandiest times in this decade of Elephant baseball. An equal share of first place in the AL West was there to be had, a big crowd was in the building, the day was warm, the beer was cold and the bat rack had been charged with vibranium.
The result: Cahill's best start ever, with a palindromic pitching line of 7 1 0 0 1 7 and (dork alert) a game score of 85, his highest ever and one of the 150 best, give or take, in franchise history. Oh, and the A's beat Houston, 7-1, to move into a flat-footed tie for first place in the AL West with only too many games left to play.
"I think it's so early in the year for that," Cahill said afterward said of dealing with the rarefied air of mid-August baseball. "It's not even September yet. I mean, it's a divisional rival and all, so it's not like I wouldn't think about it, but..."
But Cahill isn't going to get giddy on command. He knows he pitched well, very well, but rather than trip down memory lane for the 2010 start against Pittsburgh when he threw 7 2/3 innings of two-hit, 10- strikeout ball, or the late 2009 start against Texas in which he matched Saturday's pitching line save for a second hit, he fretted about his mid-game changeup ("but I got some outs and the defense backed me up and we got some hits").
Yes. Some hits – 11 of them, including eight doubles, only one of which (Stephen Piscotty's one-out drive in the fourth) did not lead to a run in Oakland's binge-and-purge attack. Indeed, this game had breezy shutout written all over it until the ninth inning, and only because backup left fielder Tony Kemp explained to a 90-mph fastball from Yusmeiro Petit what happens to most 90-mph fastballs these days.
But in hindsight, the key moment in the game was back in the second when Houston's Yuli Gurriel hit a grounder that shortstop Marcus Semien couldn't come to terms with. There was no reason for the moment to resonate at the time, but it was Houston's only baserunner off Cahill until the seventh, and the only hit he allowed all day.
Had Semien made the play (which in fairness was not an easy bit of business), Cahill would have walked off the mound in the seventh with 100 pitches and a hammer over manager Bob Melvin's head. Instead of an easy call to pull Cahill, Melvin would have had to wrestle with removing a pitcher on the cusp of a no-hitter, as he did April 21 with Sean Manaea.
"Oh, Cahill's pretty easygoing, and I don't think it would have been a problem," Melvin said, lying only about 40 percent. "But yeah, that would have been interesting."
Not just interesting though, but a much more tortuous decision given that Manaea was only at 84 pitches through seven innings back in April while Cahill's 100 marked only the 14th time all season an Oakland starter has thrown that many pitches.
In other words, Melvin had a potential conundrum removed for him, with 32,000-some-odd angry customers on one shoulder and a glowering Billy Beane on the other.
So even when they don't get outs these days, it still works fine for everyone.
As for the bigger picture, the A's won their second straight against Houston, and their sixth in seven games, 13th in 16, 19th in 25, and 43th in 53, plus their 20th of 24 at home. They have wiped all 12 games they had spotted the Astros this year, 14 from Seattle, 10 from the Yankees, and even a half-game from the Boston Red Sox, who seem to have actually won more games than they have played this season.
And for the even bigger picture, they did all this in front of the sixth-biggest crowd of the year, and the first that didn't feature the Giants, free admission or fireworks. This winning-80-percent-of-your-games thing may actually be catching on, even if they audience got screwed out of a Cahill no-hitter, a record-setting ninth double, or a chance to take the division lead outright.
But hey, that's tomorrow's plan. And if you don't get all of that and then some, be sure to complain to club busybody-in-chief Dave Kaval. He's the customer service jockey around here, and now that the standard for daily joy has been set, he had damned well better be prepared to meet it, or explain the failure.