OAKLAND -- For most of the 2013 season, the A's have won games because of their bullpen.

But with the regular season down to 10 games, questions are forming like storm clouds over the Oakland relievers. In a 5-4, 11-inning loss Wednesday afternoon, closer Grant Balfour blew a 4-2 lead by serving up a two-run homer to Josh Hamilton in the ninth inning.

"A guy who used to hit 45 or 50 homers a year hit a home run," said A's starting pitcher A.J. Griffin, who was in line for his 15th victory until Hamilton homered. "It's going to happen. This is a guy (Balfour) who has 38 saves. He's blown three. Those are good odds."

But lately, not so good. In his past 10 games, Balfour has a 7.45 ERA, one loss and two blown saves. He left without comment Wednesday, but his teammates had his back.

Oakland Athletics’ Coco Crisp follows through on a two-run home run against the Los Angeles Angels during the third inning of a baseball game,
Oakland Athletics' Coco Crisp follows through on a two-run home run against the Los Angeles Angels during the third inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/George Nikitin) ( George Nikitin )

"There are times you have to credit the other side," said third baseman Josh Donaldson, whose error in the 11th led to the game-winning sacrifice fly, also struck by Hamilton. "This guy is a premier player. Hamilton's numbers aren't great this year, but he can turn on a ball. Grant made one mistake. If he executes that pitch (a fastball) the way he wants to, Hamilton's not going to hit that pitch out."

Of the gang of three that makes the A's bullpen such a force -- Balfour, Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle -- only the latter is at the top of his game right now. Doolittle had a miserable five-game stretch in August -- two losses, two blown saves, an 18.90 ERA -- but he's come back to post an 0.82 ERA in his last nine games, with two saves along the way.

Cook, on the other hand, is in a rough patch similar to Balfour's. In his last 12 outings, the set-up man has two losses, three blown saves and a 5.43 ERA. Manager Bob Melvin was asked pregame if Cook, who didn't pitch Wednesday, needed time off.

"I'd give (Cook) some time off if his workload would suggest that," Melvin said, "but this is a guy who's important to us."

Melvin pointed to Tuesday night's game in which Cook got two quick outs and emerged unscathed from a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning, thanks to Jerry Blevins. The trouble consisted of a bloop single and two hit batsmen. Blevins came on and struck out Hamilton.

Blevins was asked to perform similar heroics Wednesday in the 11th. He got Hamilton to fly out, but the ball was deep enough to bring in J.B. Shuck from third base with the go-ahead run. Shuck had opened the 11th with a double off loser Jesse Chavez (2-4) and advanced to third when Donaldson threw away Erick Aybar's sacrifice bunt.

That was enough for the Angels to win the rubber match of the three-game series and end a streak that had seen them lose six consecutive series to the A's.

  • Coco Crisp hit a two-run homer in the fourth, giving him 20 for the season. He has far surpassed his previous career-high, which was 16 in 2005. Crisp has 19 steals, and one more will make him the first 20-homers, 20-steals player for the A's since Ruben Sierra in 1993.

  • Yoenis Cespedes established a career best with his 24th homer, a two-run shot that put the A's ahead 4-2 in the fourth. He hit 23 as a rookie last season.

  • Melvin said the sewage that leaked into the A's dugout in the seventh inning Tuesday was not a distraction, although "it made me move out of my superstitious spot." He said his players, by and large, took the issue "with some humor."

  • Griffin has allowed just three hits, three walks and three runs over his last 15 innings, during which he's struck out 19. The first-inning homer off him by the Angels' Mike Trout was the major-league high 35th off Griffin this season.

    For more on the A's, see John Hickey's Insider at blogs.ibabuzz.com/athletics.

    LATE-INNING headaches

    After dominating starts to the season, reliever Ryan Cook and All-Star closer Grant Balfour have hit rough patches of late. Here's a look at their month-by-month ERAs (blown saves are in parentheses):

    Reliever April May June July Aug. Sept.
    Balfour 2.25 (0) 0.87 (0) 2.79 (0) 1.64 (1) 5.06 (1) 4.50 (1)
    Cook 2.08 (0) 2.79 (1) 3.55 (2) 0.00 (0) 2.45 (3) 5.40 (1)