In for John Hickey …
The injuries incurred to Coco Crisp and Yoenis Cespedes notwithstanding, Friday night’s 12-inning 4-3 victory over the defending American League champion Detroit Tigers was easily the most impressive of their current nine-game winning streak.
This should have been a loss. Oakland hitters struck out 17 times against Tigers pitching, including 11 against starter Max Scherzer over the first six innings. Prince Fielder had four hits for Detroit, including a three-run homer that put Oakland in a 3-0 hole. But showing the same grit and determination that marked the team in its 14 regular-season walk-offs in 2012, the A’s somehow turned this into a W.
Donaldson was the ultimate hero, with a weird longball winner down the right field line and over the wall in the bottom of the 12th. He got the pie, but really, there was a multitude of heroes in this victory. Most prominent was the bullpen’s five innings of shutout work that allowed the A’s to catch up and ultimately come up with the big hit. After starter Bartolo departed after the seventh, making just one mistake on the Fielder three-run blast in the top of the third, Oakland’s relief corps just kept throwing up zeroes.
Sean Doolittle pitched a scoreless eighth. Grant Balfour did likewise in the ninth. Ryan Cook did the honors in the 10th. Then it was the wholly unsung Jerry Blevins, pitching 1 2/3 innings, and when Blevins gave up a two-out triple to Ramon Santiago in the top of the 12th, Chris Resop nailed down the final out of that inning.
Offensively, it was a struggle all night but the A’s still found a way to chip away at the Tigers. Eric Sogard doubled in the third and then made a brilliant steal attempt of third that so surprised Scherzer, he threw wildly to third and Sogard scampered home with the first run. Then Jed Lowrie doubled to lead off the sixth and scored on a Josh Reddick single. In the seventh, after Scherzer had departed, the A’s quickly tied it against the Tigers’ Drew Smyly. Donaldson doubled to right-center and scored on Crisp’s two-out bloop hit.
From that point, manager Bob Melvin knew his club had the upper hand in a battle of the bullpens. He knows he has one of the best in baseball
“Terrific, but we’ve seen it before,” he said. “We feel like once we tied the game, we have the bullpen to hold them down and that’s one of the better offenses in the league.”
It took some defense — Reddick backed up the reception of his Gold Glove award with a leaping catch of a Victor Martinez ball at the right field wall in the ninth — and it took some managerial maneuvering once Crisp and Cespedes both departed the game. Melvin sacrificed the DH spot by putting Chris Young in center and also put first baseman Brandon Moss in left. He already knew what he was going to do if the pitcher’s spot came up in the 13th. Tommy Milone was already taking some swings in the dugout.
“After the last guy, who was (Derek) Norris, Milone is our best-hitting pitcher,” the manager said.
Now the A’s have to hold their breath and hope the Crisp and Cespedes injuries aren’t that serious. X-rays on Cespedes’ hand were negative. The exact point of his injury is somewhere in the web of his left hand between his thumb and index finger. He was OK to play the field, but couldn’t bat. Crisp? Not even Melvin knew how he hurt tweaked his groin.
Suddenly, the A’s outfield depth is going to be put into play after 11 games. Oakland can still field a representative outfield with Seth Smith, Young and Reddick. They couldn’t have done that last season, and now we know why Billy Beane made the swap for Young.
Anyway, good win. The A’s now have scored 70 runs in this young season, two more than they scored in all of April in 2012. Their reward? They get Justin Verlander Saturday, the guy who ruined all of their 2012 fun in October. But they already have some cushion. They’re two games up in the A.L. West and already an incredible 6 1/2 in front of the 2-8 Angels, most people’s preseason pick to win the division. The Angels lost to Houston on this night in a game where Josh Hamilton, thinking there were two outs in the ninth when there was only one, took off running from first base on a foul pop and got doubled off to end the game.
That should tell you everything you need to know about why the gap is so large so early.