John Jaso is a catcher for the Oakland Athletics. He generally plays whenever the team is facing a right-handed pitcher. He is a valuable hitter because he has great plate discipline, he makes a lot of contact, and he gets on base. He does not hit for a lot of power, as evidenced by his isolated power mark of .134 and his 24 career home runs in over 1,300 plate appearances. He also might be a wizard. Or a really uncreative Hollywood producer.
On April 9, 2013, at Angel Stadium, Derek Norris started behind the plate against a left-handed pitcher. In the seventh inning, with the Angels up 5-4, right-handed reliever Kevin Jepsen entered the game with a runner on base to face Yoenis Cespedes. He walked Cespedes, which brought up Norris' spot in the order. Following his strict platoon rules, Bob Melvin called on Jaso to pinch-hit. Here's what happened:
It was Jaso's first home run of the season, and he eventually hit three in 249 plate appearances. It was completely out-of-character, and it came at the perfect moment to steal a victory away from a division rival.
Fast forward to April 14, 2014. One year and five days have passed. The A's played a game at Angel Stadium, and Derek Norris started behind the plate against a left-handed pitcher. In the ninth inning, with the Angels up 2-1, right-handed reliever Ernesto Frieri entered the game. He allowed the leadoff man to reach base before recording the first out. This brought up Norris' spot in the order. Following his strict platoon rules, Bob Melvin called on Jaso to pinch-hit. Here's what happened:
It was Jaso's first home run of the season. It was completely out-of-character, and it came at the perfect moment to steal a victory away from a division rival. It was also exactly what he did 370 days ago. Not that I'm complaining.
Are there any conclusions to draw here? Is Jaso somehow magical at Angel Stadium? His career line there is .424/.493/.727 with six home runs in 76 plate appearances, so it's possible -- remember, he has 24 career dingers in over 1,300 PA's, so the fact that six of them came in just 76 trips to the plate in Anaheim is quite aberration. But no, it's doubtful that he's somehow better in this particular park, which actually plays better for pitchers than hitters. Is he specifically well-suited to pinch-hitting for some reason? Well, those are the only two pinch-hit homers of his career and he's 13-for-61 overall (.213/.364/.344), so that doesn't seem to be the case.
Nope, this is just a weird, awesome thing for us to enjoy. The Angels are one of Oakland's biggest rivals, being that they play in the same division and the same state and are both usually good teams fighting for the same prize. John Jaso is a non-power hitter who occasionally hits a home run. For some reason, he did so twice in the same park, both times as a pinch-hitter for the same guy, both times to turn a late deficit into a lead, and both separated by almost exactly one year.
On Monday night, I was watching the game with a couple of casual fans who don't know the specific players. I was explaining how Jaso is a good hitter and how I was happy he was up right then, but that he's not a power hitter and he's not going to hit a home run. Then he went yard, just to make me look bad in front of my friends. This, as they say, is why they play the games.