OAKLAND -- Having made a habit out of routing opponents for much of the year, the A's are relearning how to play close games.
Offensively challenged of late, they did just enough for a second straight night against the Rays on Tuesday, exiting with a 3-0 series-clinching shutout -- their 10th of the season -- to maintain baseball's best record for a 49th consecutive day and boost their American League West lead to two games.
That Jason Hammel was the winning pitcher, and exited to a standing ovation, was of equal significance.
The right-hander carried a 9.53 ERA with the A's into the outing -- and perhaps a one-way ticket out of Oakland's rotation if he couldn't pull it together this time. He did.
Hammel was by no means dominant, allowing 11 baserunners in 5 2/3 innings. But he prevented each from scoring, showing plenty of grit in earning his first win in green and gold and getting plenty of help from a superb defense that completed a pair of double plays for him.
He was 0-4 in his previous four starts that followed his trade from the Cubs with Jeff Samardzija.
"It's huge," said Hammel. "I want to give these guys something to cheer about. Not that I have to validate or prove anything, but I know what I can do as a pitcher, and right now it's that tough part of the season that you just got to get through. I'm going to continue to battle, continue to work hard, like I keep telling you guys. I'll find myself and get right back into the swing of things."
"I think that could get the monkey off his back a little bit, because when he was in Chicago, we saw the type of numbers he was putting up, the kind of pitcher that he is," said Sean Doolittle. "He showed that tonight, stayed poised in situations with guys on base. You could see him pitching with a lot of confidence out there, and hopefully it's a sign of good things to come moving forward."
Just as welcoming was the return of Coco Crisp, who provided the first run of the game courtesy a fifth-inning RBI single in his first start since July 26, following more than a week of treatment on his strained neck.
"That first run, a lot of times in those games, where you know you're going to have good pitching and the teams match up pretty well, it's a relief," said manager Bob Melvin. "Now you have a little bit more swagger. He was the guy that delivered there."
Josh Reddick also continued his torrid ways, collecting two hits in the affair, including an RBI single in a two-run sixth that also featured a run-scoring double off the bat of Nate Freiman. Reddick is batting .388 in 14 games since being reinstated from the disabled list.
Left-hander Drew Smyly was responsible for all three runs, while Oakland's bullpen ensured the Rays didn't get any.
The A's got a combined 3 2/3 shutout innings from Eric O'Flaherty, Ryan Cook, Luke Gregerson and Doolittle, who picked up his 17th save to tie the A's record for saves by a lefty, first set by Alan Embree in 2007.
Oakland's bullpen has a 21 2/3-inning scoreless streak.
"The guys have been throwing pretty well, and they seem to be settling into their roles and really kind of feeding off each others' energy," said Doolittle. "There's a little bit of momentum, a lot of good vibes there.
"I don't know if it's a little bit of competitiveness, but there's a lot of pride down there in the bullpen."
"We knew, at some point, we'd really have to rely on these guys," said Melvin. "We were scoring a bunch of runs, double-digit runs, for a time there, but you knew at some point you're not going to score 10 runs every game."
Unlike before, Hammel didn't need that many.
"Very important," said Melvin. "Makes you feel like you're part of it. We brought him here for a reason, goes out there in a game where he didn't have much room for error, either, pretty much the whole way. He had to be good."
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.