Oakland A's pitcher Jarrod Parker, deep in the heart of a pennant race in Texas, faces his biggest game ever tonight, not to be melodramatic about it. OK, maybe that's a little melodramatic.
The A's will play the Rangers (8 p.m., ESPN), in pursuit of a playoff berth, and they need another momentum-building win over the American League West leader.
Parker could be just the man for the job.
Parker has been as sharp as any pitcher in the majors heading into late September. The Norwell High School product has posted a 1.86 ERA in September, holding opponents to a .240 batting average while striking out 19 hitters and walking only three in 29 innings on the mound. That's dominant.
Rookies aren't supposed to keep getting better as the season progresses. Parker keeps defying that notion.
Even when the A's end up losing – as they did in his last outing – he's putting them in position for success. Pitching for the first time in Yankee Stadium, Parker threw eight innings, giving up one run and six hits, striking out seven and allowing no walks. Yankees' ace C.C. Sabathia pitched a three-hitter in the 2-1 extra-inning win.
“Parker had his changeup going and was throwing 95 (mph) and the ball was jumping out of his hand,” teammate Brandon Moss told reporters. “He kept one of the best offenses in the big leagues to one run in their home park -- that says enough.”
Parker has twice held the Yankees to one run in eight-inning outings.
"I think he feels like he's no longer a rookie with the way he's pitched this time of the year," A's manager Bob Melvin told reporters. "He pitched really good."
Parker can't control the A's offensive production, or lack thereof. All he can do is put his best effort forward, and the last four games, he has allowed two or fewer runs while pitching at least seven innings. You can't ask much more of a starting pitcher in the majors, let alone a pitcher trekking across his first full season on the big stage.
Four times this season, Parker has held opposing teams to one run or no runs and not ended up with the win. Again, offensive production is beyond his control, unless they give him a bat. (He did hit a double in his late-season call-up to the Diamondbacks last season.)
What's most impressive about Parker, following his career from afar, is the fact he was able to fight through a few rough outings after the All-Star break to find a form at or better than the level he displayed to start the season.
He had a 5.45 ERA in his first six starts after the break. Call it a breaking point. Parker fought through the mini-slump to produce numbers that put him among the top rookies in the American League. He won't win Rookie of the Year with Angels outfielder Mike Trout tearing it up, but he has posted a season that shows the promise of a career to come.
Parker is 11-8 with a 3.40 ERA and 126 strikeouts in 27 starts this season. It's been a redeeming and rewarding season, only two years removed from a missed 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery. After being traded from the Diamondbacks to the A's in the offseason, he's made the deal look like a steal.
Parker faced the Rangers only once previously this season, pitching eight innings and allowing only one hit in a 12-1 win on June 4.
The A's need the win as they try to chase down the Rangers in the division. The opportunity to forge their own destiny is there, however, since they play the Rangers in five of their last eight games. The A's won 3-2 in extra innings Tuesday, closing the Rangers' lead to four games.
Parker is coming down to his last couple starts, depending on whether the A's can find their way into the postseason. Knowing his competitive nature, he won't look back until this season's last pitch. When he does, he'll be entitled to a big-league dose of satisfaction.