Brown comes up big
Kevin Brown dominated the A's in his second start since returning from the DL, helping the Yankees take two of three from Oakland.
Big Series: Oakland (60-47) at the Yankees (68-39).
Big Deal: The Yankees are starved for strong starting pitching, and they got one of their most dominant outings of the year Thursday when Kevin Brown beat Oakland, 5-1. The Yankees took two of three in this series, including Wednesday's 8-6 comeback victory, in which Gary Sheffield slammed a two-run homer to tie the game in the ninth and Alex Rodriguez hammered a game-winning two-run shot in the 11th.
Brown threw sinkers and sliders and splitters, all with extraordinary movement, and Brown had excellent command: There were only four instances, among his 107 pitches, when the opposing batter was working in a hitter's count of 2 balls and no strikes or 3-1. Even then, they were overmatched by the sinking and sliding and dipping of Brown's pitches; he allowed four hits, walked two and struck out seven. Brown has won both his starts since being activated from the disabled list, but beyond the wins, the Yankees' brass had to be relieved by his stuff -- the kind of repertoire that can dominate in October.
Big Mystery: And then there is Barry Zito. The 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner was charged with 11 hits, a walk, and five runs (four earned) in 6 2/3 innings. Zito is now 7-8.
Big Bruise: When Jermaine Dye popped up with two outs in the top of the sixth, Brown raced over toward the foul line in pursuit, in keeping with his reputation as a pitcher who will hustle. Brown was called off the play by third baseman Alex Rodriguez and catcher Jorge Posada, but as Brown waited, Posada flung his mask -- and hit Brown right below the belt. Brown continued, and the Yankees' players laughed about the play afterward.
Big Presence: Oakland's Rich Harden battled for 6 1/3 innings Wednesday, his fastball reaching the mid-90s. He is one of four reasons why the Athletics would have a big edge over the Yankees in post-season starting pitching should the two teams meet in October. The Yankees, on the other hand, would have an advantage with their bullpen, as illuminated by Octavio Dotel's blown save in the ninth inning.
Big Debut: John Olerud played his first games for the Yankees on Wednesday and Thursday, collecting five hits in eight at-bats and driving in four runs. Olerud is getting a chance to play in the absence of Jason Giambi, and there are no guarantees Giambi will be a full-time player again this year. Olerud cannot give the same power as Giambi, but he's a much better first baseman and he will contribute his share of walks and singles.
Big Race: The Athletics are knee-deep in the playoff chase, scrapping with three other teams. With the loss, Oakland dropped into second place in the AL West, a half-game behind Texas -- the Rangers have won three straight -- and the Athletics are 1½ games ahead of the Red Sox and 2½ games ahead of Anaheim in the wild-card race.
Big Margin: The Yankees are on the verge of building a double-digit lead in the AL East. As their game ended Thursday, they were ahead of Boston by 9½ games.
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," will be released Aug. 17, and can be pre-ordered through HarperCollins.com.
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