The A's continued their free-fall Thursday, when Chris Sale bested Scott Kazmir in a brilliant pitchers' duel, light-hitting Marcus Semien homered for the only run and the Chicago White Sox won 1-0.
The A's lost for the 11th time in 14 games. Their lead in the AL wild-card race dwindled to one game over Detroit and 1 1-2 over Seattle, both of which were idle.
"We're playing for our lives now," manager Bob Melvin conceded. "I mean, that's just the way it is. We put ourselves in this position."
Once leading the division, the A's began the day nine games behind the Los Angeles Angels. Oakland starts a three-game showdown in Seattle on Friday night.
Facing Sale, Oakland posed its only threat in the eighth, when Jed Lowrie singled and Alberto Callaspo drew a two-out walk. Coco Crisp bounced out to end the inning.
Sale (12-3) gave up two hits in eight innings, both of them singles to Lowrie. Between the hits, the All-Star left-hander retired 17 batters in order. He struck out nine and walked two.
Jake Petricka pitched the ninth, yielding one hit, and got his 13th save in 16 tries.
Sale lowered his ERA to an AL-best 1.99, boosting his bid to become the first White Sox pitcher to lead the league in the category since Joe Horlen in 1967.
"Right up there," Lowrie said when asked where Sale ranked among starting pitchers. "Off-hand, I can't give you a number, but he's one of the better ones in the game."
Yet the Athletics have had to tip their caps too many times since the All-Star break. They've scored more than three runs only 15 times in the 39 games since slugger Yoenis Cespedes was traded to Boston on July 31.
Melvin suggested his team might need to get back to its loose ways again.
"We've been two different teams — the one that played through July and the one that's at this point right now," he said.
"We're trying as a staff to stay positive. At times, I get upset. At times, you have to be supportive. Today they were trying. They were trying as hard as they could. Sometimes maybe you have to try a little easier," he said.
Semien hit a leadoff homer in the sixth into the left-field bleachers. He started the day with a .216 batting average and three home runs. Each pitcher had given up only one single and one walk to that point.
"(The pitch) seemed to have good depth, but it stayed higher in the zone than I wanted," Kazmir said. "It turned out to be the deciding factor. It's tough."
Kazmir (14-8) went the distance, giving up four hits, striking out seven and walking one. The left-hander entered the game with a 3-5 record and 5.89 ERA in 11 career starts against the White Sox.
"It's a tough run that we're facing right now," Kazmir said. "The only way to get out of it is to stay positive and keep battling."
Athletics: LHP Sean Doolittle is expected to return from the disabled list on Friday. The closer has been sidelined since Aug. 24 because of a strained intercostal muscle. ... OF Craig Gentry was held out of the series finale one day after he suffered a concussion on a play at first base. He's likely to sit out the series in Seattle this weekend as well. ... C Stephen Vogt continues to be slowed by what Melvin calls "a pretty significant (left ankle) sprain" and won't be available until next week at the earliest.
White Sox: 1B Paul Konerko will test his fractured left hand with some dry swings on Friday then plans to hit short tosses and off a tee the next day. The veteran could return to action on the next road trip. "I'm going to be back," said Konerko, who will retire after the season. "There's no doubt."
Athletics: RHP Jason Hammel (2-5, 4.70) opens the series at Seattle on Friday night. The Mariners will start LHP James Paxton (5-2, 1.87).
White Sox: LHP Jose Quintana (7-10, 3.38) will oppose Twins RHP Phil Hughes (5-9, 3.55) in the opener of a three-game set in Minnesota on Friday night.
The anniversary of the Sept. 11 tragedy brought back vivid memories for Melvin, who was an Arizona bench coach at the time. "We were in (New York on an off-day) shortly thereafter and went to Ground Zero and spoke to the first responders and saw firsthand what was going on," he said. "It's a day that I'll never forget. ... The thing that stood out to me most was the heroes who were part of cleaning it up and getting past it, the people of New York being so resilient."
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