From Comcast SportsNetANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- At the start of spring training, Oakland manager Bob Melvin didn't know who A.J. Griffin was. Things have changed quite dramatically since then.Griffin threw eight scoreless innings, becoming the second Athletics pitcher in 85 years to start his career with six straight wins, and Oakland beat the Los Angeles Angels 4-1 on Wednesday night."He's on my radar now, put it that way," Melvin said. "We didn't see him at all in the spring. But once the season started, we were watching pretty intently because he was pitching well in the minors."We've seen a lot of good games out of him. But against that lineup, here at this place, that's probably as good as we've seen him. He's got a lot of confidence and he's been fun to watch."Oakland, the AL wild-card leader, stayed three games behind first-place Texas in the AL West. But the surprising A's have a five-game cushion with 20 to play in the race for the league's final postseason spot.Griffin (6-0) allowed six hits, struck out six and walked none in the longest of his 11 major league starts. The 24-year-old right-hander, one of four rookies in the A's rotation along with Jarrod Parker, Dan Straily and Tommy Milone, lowered his ERA to 1.94 in his third start off the disabled list."Someone's got to go out there and pitch, so why not me? That's kind of the way I look at it," said Griffin, promoted from Triple-A Sacramento on June 24. "You just go out there and try to do the best you can and give the team a chance to win. It's just worked out in my favor to be 6-0. Tonight I had pretty good command of all four of my pitches, and I just tried to go after guys and get ahead."The only other A's pitcher since 1927 to win his first six decisions as a big leaguer was Jim Nash, who was 7-0 over his first nine starts in 1966."I just try to detach myself from that kind of stuff," Griffin said. "But you've got to go out there with confidence. I mean, I don't want to sound like, Yeah, I thought I was going to be this good.' But I thought that I would do well if I just kept to my game plan -- keep throwing strikes, getting ahead of guys and keeping them off balance. It's pretty much the same game up here. They just don't miss as much when you make a mistake."Rookie pitchers have 40 wins for the A's, four shy of the Oakland record set in 2009."We've put a lot of stock in these guys and we've given them opportunities," Melvin said. "If we didn't feel like they had the makeup to be able to do this, we couldn't. But every single one of them has responded."I think they feed off each other," he added. "I mean, we're talking about a group now where you're looking at Milone and Parker as veterans, based on the fact that they've pitched the whole season. Straily wasn't on our radar either this spring, so (general manager) Billy Beane and the front office have done a great job targeting these guys when they're ready to come up and perform."Sean Doolittle gave up a leadoff homer in the ninth by Albert Pujols before Ryan Cook got the final out for his 14th save. Pujols, a three-time NL MVP, became the first player in history with 30 homers in each of his first 12 seasons. He also tied Stan Musial and Willie Stargell for 28th place on the career list with No. 475.The Athletics, who can sweep the four-game series by beating Angels ace Jered Weaver on Thursday, have won 15 of 18 and are 22 games over .500 (82-60) for the first time since the 2006 club finished 93-69.The A's won their 12th consecutive road game, matching the 1971 squad for the longest streak since the club relocated from Kansas City to Oakland in 1968. The franchise record is 14 in a row set in May 1931, when the team was in Philadelphia.Oakland's road winning streak is the longest in the majors since 2003, when Seattle won 13 straight away from Safeco Field.Ervin Santana (8-12) was charged with two runs -- one earned -- and four hits over six innings. He struck out six. It was the eighth time this season that his teammates didn't score while he was in the game -- including five straight starts by Santana in which the Angels were shut out."Those guys have been pitching great all year, and this series they matched up well against us and are doing a good job," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "A week ago we were playing great baseball, and right now we've hit a little bump in the road. It takes one good game to get you on track, and one good inning. Unfortunately, we haven't swung the bats early in the games against Oakland in this series to give us a chance to do some things."The Angels got a scare in the fourth when Santana was struck on the right wrist by a line drive off Josh Donaldson's bat. He scrambled after the ball in time to get the force at second base on Brandon Moss, then was allowed to take a few practice pitches to test his arm after Scioscia and trainer Adam Nevala went out to check on him.Oakland got an unearned run in the first when Josh Reddick doubled with two outs and scored on an error by shortstop Erick Aybar. Yoenis Cespedes made it 2-0 with his 18th homer leading off the sixth, ending a career-worst 22-game homerless drought. The A's tacked on two runs in the eighth with Derek Norris' RBI double and an RBI single by Coco Crisp.NOTES:Santana has given up a major league-worst 35 homers, the most in his eight-year career. He is five shy of the franchise record. ... A's starters have walked three batters or fewer in 41 consecutive games, tying the Oakland record set in 2001. ... The Angels haven't been swept in a four-game set by Oakland since the final series of the 2001 season, when they finished the schedule with a 2-19 thud. ... Pujols, relegated to DH duty the past 15 games because of a sore right calf, is hitting .317 with two homers and 10 RBIs during that stretch. ... Aybar's error was his 13th, matching last season's total when he won his first Gold Glove.
Rick Horrow The Sports Professor sits down for an exclusive interview with Joe Leccese -- and more from the $1 trillion-dollar business of sports in this week's 'Beyond The Scoreboard with Rick Horrow'
About the Guest: Joe Leccese is the Chairman of Proskauer. He is responsible for leading the Firm’s global operations across its 13 offices and co-heads of Proskauer’s renowned Sports Law Group.
By Rick Horrow
Podcast producer: Tanner Simkins
For the Capitals to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets, one of the keys to the series was going to be the penalty kill.
For the season, Columbus ranked only 25th in the league on the power play at 17.2-percent, but that number did not reflect the massive improvement the Blue Jackets made with their trade deadline acquisitions.
Since the trade deadline on Feb. 26, Columbus ranked seventh on the power play. The Caps were sixth with both teams converting 25.0-percent of the time.
Where Washington did have an edge, seemingly, was on the penalty kill. Unlike the power play, Columbus' penalty kill was consistently poor all season, finishing 27th in the NHL with a kill rate of only 76.2-percent. While not a strength by any means, the Caps were certainly better on the PK with a kill rate of 80.3-percent, good for 15th in the league.
With two power plays converting at the same rate, Washington had to be able to kill off more of the Blue Jackets' opportunities. They struggled to do that in Game 1 and Game 2.
The Caps were called for four penalties and gave up two power play goals in each of the first two games. Washington scored five power play goals in those games, but their advantage on special teams was mitigated by their inability to keep Columbus from converting.
There are many reasons why the Caps were able to overcome the 0-2 series deficit and now sit just one win away from advancing to the second round. Chief among those reasons is the improved penalty kill. Since Game 2, Washington has not allowed a single power play goal. The PK has successfully killed off 13 straight penalties including five in Game 5.
"I think as a group, they've all stepped up," Barry Trotz said on a conference call with the media on Sunday. "I don't think I can single out anybody. They've all stepped up. The penalty kill is as good as the five guys that you have, your four and your goaltender. They've been very committed there."
In a series that has seen four out of five games go to overtime, it's not hard to recognize the impact even one goal can have on a game and, by extension, the series. Should the Caps go on to win the series, their ability to adjust their penalty kill to stop the Blue Jackets' suddenly potent power play will be one of the main reasons why.
Trotz would not go into specifics as to the adjustments the team made after Game 2, but did acknowledge the penalty kill has been a "major factor" in the Caps' turnaround this series.
But to finish the job, the penalty kill will have to continue adjusting.
"This is the time when we're still trying to tweak things," Trotz said. "They changed some things on their power play a little bit yesterday, so we'll look to maybe tweak a little bit with our PK."