ARLINGTON, Texas -- Let's face it, the A's are just a dramatically different team when Coco Crisp and Yoenis Cespedes are anchoring Oakland's lineup together.
That hasn't happened much this year -- just 18 times in 46 games. But the A's are 15-3 when they have both their sparkplug at the top of the order and their prime offensive piston manning the middle, and just 9-19 when they don't.
Cespedes got it going over the weekend against Kansas City, and Crisp set the tone Monday night in a 9-2 romp over the Texas Rangers with a Coco-like game -- three hits (two infield beat-outs and a double), a walk, a run scored, an RBI groundout, a stolen base and his usual stellar defense in center field.
Cespedes, meanwhile, had a laser double in the fifth that scored Crisp with the go-ahead run in a 1-1 game and the floodgates suddenly opened for a four-spot that put the A's up 5-1. Oakland never looked back in a strong opening victory to start a six-game Lone Star State swing.
"Those are our two keys offensively," said manager Bob Melvin, whose team is 4-1 since Crisp and Cespedes have been back in the batting order together. "Everybody just feels good when they're in the lineup. You don't make excuses for injuries, you still have to play through it. But when we're playing our best baseball, those two guys are at the forefront."
Coming into the game, Crisp had gone just 1 for 13 with a walk. But he not only delivered the hits but also did a lot of hard running on infield grounders and tag-ups and looked fully recovered from the hamstring strain that put him out of commission from April 13-27. Nobody was happier to see it than Melvin.
"That's what he does," he said. "I've often said that when he's playing well, we're playing well."
Indeed, despite coming up empty with the bases loaded twice and stranding 15 baserunners, the A's banged out 15 hits against four Rangers pitchers. That was plenty of support for the seemingly ageless Bartolo Colon (4-2), who made his final start as a 30-something a snappy one before he turns 40 on Friday.
Colon, who said he'll celebrate his 40th quietly with his wife, Rosanna, gave up six hits and two runs over seven innings to add to his strange mastery over Texas. He's won six straight at Rangers Ballpark, and over his last 18 career starts against the Rangers, is 14-2 against them.
"I've always pitched good here," Colon said through interpreter Ariel Prieto. "But I don't know why."
Some things are best left unexplained. Despite two walks in a start for the first this year -- running his season walk total to four in 541/3 innings -- Colon was his usual strike-throwing machine. And while he said he mixed pitches more often than usual, he still threw mostly fastballs.
In a four-pitch fourth inning, he snuffed a potential rally when, after Lance Berkman opened with a single by hitting the second pitch he saw, Adrian Beltre swung at the first pitch and hit a routine double play grounder to shortstop.
Must have been good location on that Beltre pitch, eh Bartolo? Or perhaps an off-speed pitch?
"Fastball right in the middle," he said, smiling. "With men on base, I like to throw the two-seam fastball a lot ... and everybody knows it."
Melvin said Colon is throwing as well as he did last year before he was suspended for PED use, and he's trying to keep him as fresh as possible for the long season.
"In this ballpark, shoot, I would have taken six (innings)," the manager said. "I went and talked to him after six and I asked him how he was doing and he asked me how I was doing. So, I was guessing he was OK to pitch the seventh and he had a clean seventh."
Among the 15 hits, Seth Smith had a pair, including his fourth homer and his first in May.
A's (Dan Straily 1-2) at Texas (Yu Darvish 7-1), 5:05 p.m. CSNCA