A's Izzy learning how to sweat 'em out

OAKLAND - Some day, Jason Isringhausen may look back on these days and laugh. I mean, what choice does he have? How much funnier can these days get before he starts throwing dishes around the flat?

The Oakland A's closer, dented but still running after his own version of Hell Week, broke out of what he generously calls ''this little funk I've been in'' Thursday night by opening the door for the Seattle Mariners, inviting them onto the welcome mat and then slamming it shut.

Put another way, asked to preserve Oakland's 7-6 victory, he maneuvered his way into facing the nonpareil Alex Rodriguez with the tying and leading runs on base and, for a change, did not end up looking like Wile E. Coyote after the dynamite under the bird seed exploded.

He gave up a leadoff double to David Bell, retired Tom Lampkin and struck out Mike Cameron, but walked Mark McLemore after getting ahead, 0-2, and faced who many people believe is the best single hitter in baseball with only the game, and his self-esteem on the line.

One pitch later, a grounder to Miguel Tejada, Isringhausen was declared cured. Well, at least in remission, anyway.

Look back on this and laugh? Isringhausen is laughing a little already.

''Nervous? Yeah, a little,'' he smiled as he recounted his latest brush with disaster. ''I mean, the guy's awesome, right? It's the first time I ever faced him, so I didn't really know what to expect, so I just threw a little cutter away and, thankfully, he grounded out.''

Thankfully for Isringhausen especially, because (a) he finally succeeded after blowing three saves in nine days, (b) he did it while pitching for the third day in succession for the first time in his career, and (c) he did it, period.

''The road trip was tough,'' he admitted as he recalled the save he blew in Kansas City in an 8-7 loss, the one he hocked up three days later in an 11-10 loss to Texas, and then the one he returned Wednesday in Anaheim. ''I got the win last night, which was nice, but it wasn't the way I wanted it to go. I've gotten sort of frustrated with myself and it's been hard to put it behind me.''

This is the kind of introspection we grew used to when Denis Eckersley closed here, but with someone still learning the job, the questions about shattered confidence are more legitimate.

Isringhausen, though, says he's doing fine. Well, OK, anyway.

''I could probably pitch again (Friday),'' he said, ''but I doubt that I will.''

Isringhausen, in fact, mentioned that his bicep has been bothering him ''since spring training. It feels like it does in spring training when you get dead arm, but the next morning, it's fine again ... nothing I've had to worry about.''

Except that Isringhausen has already had three surgeries on his right arm, and though he ascribes some of the soreness to the increased velocity of his arm, one can see why he might be a bit jumpy about an achy wing.

The A's, though, have no reasonable alternative to Isringhausen as their closer. T.J. Mathews is having a horrible time of it, Doug Jones is the answer only if the question is, ''Does he still try to throw a fastball at his age?'' and most notably, the A's just brought up 36-year-old lefthander Rich Sauveur, who has 24 major league appearances in 14 years of professional ball.

If that doesn't tell you how badly the A's need Isringhausen to be healthy, happy and hearty, then you're beyond comprehending.

Yet for all this, the A's have now won nine of their last 13 games, and have moved from last place and four games back in the AL West to second place, a half-game behind Seattle with three more chances to further change their position.

Plus, they finally won a series opener at home. Having made their reputation as one of baseball's best home teams last year, they erased all that in a month. They needed to win in Minnesota and Kansas City, two places that have treated them badly over the years, just to regain their self-respect.

Now they have it, presumably. They are over .500 again, within a good day's work of taking over the division lead, and just need to get deep into the weekend without using Isringhausen again.

He could use the rest, too, if for no other reason than to enjoy an easy save. And where he's been the last week or so, facing Alex Rodriguez with two runners on base in the ninth constitutes ''easy.''

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.

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