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TB@OAK: A's walk off on Weeks' sacrifice fly in 15th

OAKLAND -- When third baseman Brandon Inge finally slid across home plate in the 15th inning early Tuesday morning, he had given the A's yet another walk-off win, taking the opener of their series against the Rays, 4-3.

And perhaps it wasn't surprising that Oakland did so. After all, their two-month ascension from the depths of a nine-game losing streak to serious playoff contention has been highlighted by a seemingly never-ending string of dramatic wins at home.

But in returning to the Coliseum on Monday and thus returning to their dramatic ways, this time turned out to be worlds different than the late-game heroics of the recent past. This time turned out to be a five-hour, nine-minute marathon, mercifully coming to completion after 15 innings, 14 pitchers and what A's manager Bob Melvin called a "game, basically, of attrition."

Second baseman Jemile Weeks was the hero this time, hitting the sacrifice fly that scored Inge and gave Oakland its Major League-leading 12th walk-off in its longest game of the season.

Weeks, like many of the A's responsible for game-ending plays this year, was an improbable hero, having gone 0-for-7 before facing Kyle Farnsworth with the bases loaded in the 15th. Weeks, though, was ready to end it.

"I was confident," Weeks said. "You've got to be confident. I went up there looking for a pitch up, and I said if I got it, I was going to put it in the air. Thankfully he gave me that pitch and I did that."

To take a loss in this one would've been downright excruciating, given how close the team came to ending it much earlier.

The A's loaded the bases in both the ninth and 10th innings, but both times a hitter struck out to end the threat (Weeks and catcher Kurt Suzuki, respectively).

In the 11th, Oakland got a man to second base, but failed to capitalize when right fielder Josh Reddick also struck out to end the inning.

But while the late-game offensive woes were frustrating, the flip side was that the team's bullpen was more impressive than ever. Four relievers combined to limit Tampa Bay to just three hits over eight innings after starter A.J. Griffin exited.

Melvin singled out left-hander Jerry Blevins. He's typically more of a matchup reliever, but Blevins threw 2 2/3 innings and escaped a Tampa Bay threat in the 14th.

"It's probably pretty easy for any one of our bullpen guys to let up when the game's going that late into the night," Inge said. "Everyone's tired. Those guys battled the whole time as if it was the last game they'd ever play."

If Weeks was an improbable hero, Oakland was itself an improbable victor.

After all, the A's set a new franchise record for futility by striking out 21 times. And they faced long odds well before extra innings had become the grim reality, down 3-2 to Tampa Bay starter and leading Cy Young candidate David Price in the seventh inning.

The lefty had already collected 11 strikeouts himself and was virtually untouchable except for a troublesome second inning.

Shortstop Brandon Hicks, a .185 hitter entering Monday, looked overmatched in striking out in his first two at-bats against Price. But that didn't stop him from taking Price deep with two outs in the seventh to tie the game at 3.

"I felt like I made an all-right pitch and he put a good swing on it," Price said. "That's part of it. I wish I could have that pitch back and throw something different."

From there, given the A's pedigree for late-inning wins at the Coliseum, it's fair to say the odds had shifted dramatically in their favor. That was borne out when Weeks hit his sacrifice fly to win the game and shrink the Coliseum's whipped cream supply one more time.

The end result meant that the team secured the best month of July in A's history (19-4) and have another game left to add on to that. For this season, it meant that the A's held onto the first AL Wild Card spot in a season that wasn't expected to go anywhere.

The good feelings were there at the end of this one -- it only took a little longer than normal.

"Energy level is a factor, but you can still control your mentality, and our mentality is always to keep going to that last out," Weeks said. "We've proven it time and time again with the walk-offs. Guys are tired, but the mentality is to keep going until we win."

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