Braden pitches another gem, but A's fall to Giants

Oakland Athletics' Ryan Sweeney, left, slides to score behind San Francisco Giants catcher Eli Whiteside during the third inning of an exhibition baseball game Wednesday, March 30, 2011, in San Francisco. Sweeney scored on a sacrifice fly by Mark Ellis. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

March 30, 2011 8:50:55 PM PDT
Giants 2, Athletics 1

Dallas Braden is ready to make this season memorable for more than just one start.

The fiery lefty with the big breaking ball pitched 5 2-3 scoreless innings before the San Francisco Giants rallied in the ninth to beat the Oakland Athletics 2-1 on Wednesday in the final tuneup before opening day.

A year after pitching a perfect game and making headlines for his infamous mound confrontation with Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez, Braden is out to prove his often stunning performances were no fluke. He wants to be more consistent this season -- and injury free -- with hopes of helping the A's to an AL West title and possibly more.

"I was ready to be done with spring training on day two of spring training, so I'm definitely ready to get going now," he said.

Braden struck out five and allowed five hits and two walks against the World Series champions, who played mostly reserves in the finale of the annual preseason Bay Bridge Series. The Giants swept the series.

San Francisco starter Madison Bumgarner also had a solid performance, giving up one run in six innings. He stuck out six and walked three.

The Giants begin their title defense Thursday at the rival Los Angeles Dodgers. Oakland opens the regular season at home against the Seattle Mariners on Friday night, and Braden believes the A's might surprise some people if they can stay healthy.

Braden will shore up the back end of a deep and talented rotation at the fourth spot. Along with Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez, the A's rotation -- which led the AL in ERA (3.56) and shutouts (17) last season -- could be as good as any in the majors.

"I'm riding around on their coattails," Braden joked. "They're throwing around the 'Fantastic Four' name. I told them, 'Big 3.5, and I'll be the decimal."'

The only run the A's gave Braden came in the third inning when Ryan Sweeney doubled and Mark Ellis drove him in two batters later. The Giants had a two-out rally in the ninth, with Eli Whiteside and Mark DeRosa hitting RBI singles off Bobby Cramer.

While the Giants were more than pleased to close spring with a sweep of their Bay Area rival, the real emotions came later in the clubhouse. Promising prospect Brandon Belt made the 25-man roster, crying tears of joy when he received the news from manager Bruce Bochy, and teammates congratulated the rookie as he choked up speaking to reporters.

"I'm not sure if I'm going to have a heart attack or cry," Belt said. "This is pretty much the most exciting day of my life."

Bochy said Belt deserved to make the team because he was the best player at his position. Belt will start at first base for the Giants, moving veteran Aubrey Huff -- who was among the first to congratulate the rookie -- to right field.

"I think Huff was crying more than Brandon," Bochy joked.

On a picturesque day in San Francisco's cozy waterfront ballpark, Braden soaked up every moment against the team he rooted for as a kid. He called AT&T Park "the most hallowed ground in baseball" and had never pitched in the ballpark across the Bay from the Oakland Coliseum.

While Braden cherished the opportunity, he quickly moved past his performance.

He was only 11-14 last season, had a 3.50 ERA but pitched five complete games, including his Mother's Day's masterpiece against the Tampa Bay Rays on May 9. But he went 0-5 in nine starts and dealt with an elbow injury after his perfect game before finally winning again, and he still has plenty to prove after an otherwise forgettable spring.

Braden allowed more runs than innings pitched in his first four outings this spring but did close strong. He allowed one run in just six innings in his previous start before holding the Giants scoreless.

Braden said he's more than ready for the regular season and relishes his role in the A's rotation.

"At the back end of the rotation, you want to be a surprise," Braden said. "You want them to look up on that Sunday day game and be like, "Dang, that just happened? I'm fully embracing the fourth spot."

NOTES: A's closer Andrew Bailey (strained forearm) and RHP Rich Harden (strained lat muscle below his shoulder) both had light throwing sessions. ... Giants outfielder Cody Ross (strained right calf) said he will likely resume baseball activity over the weekend. He will start the season on the DL and likely miss at least another two weeks. ... San Francisco allowed the A's to use the designated hitter for the final preseason game but the Giants choose not to use the DH themselves.

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