Our condolences to the family and friends of Don Zimmer, who died at 83 today.
Media attention is something that is new to the Oakland Athletics. Until--quite literally--this week, the two-time defending American League West champions, who have been the best team in baseball for nearly two full years, have flown under just about every radar out there. Part of the problem is that the majority of the A's games are played in the West Coast time zone, so no one except fans of the green and gold can enjoy the gift of the 2014 Oakland Athletics on a nightly basis. That changed tonight. Named the ESPN Wednesday night game, and given a nifty seven o'clock East Coast start, the A's were highlighted on national television against the well-televised, well-covered, well-funded, new-ballparked, New York Yankees. And the A's showed Major League baseball why A's fans reorganize our schedules around 162 baseball games from April to October in order to have the privilege of watching this particular baseball team. I know there are many of you on the site who have spent many a late night in a different time zone, and this one was for you.
Despite Yoenis Cespedes' and Josh Donaldson's big night (they each went 3-5), this win was a team effort, if there ever was one. Players up and down the lineup contributed; if not with their bats, than certainly with their gloves. Jesse Chavez polished up a near-disastrous start if by the power of sheer will, hanging on long enough to get the win, and the bullpen combination of Abad and Otero held the game at one-run until the A's added an appropriate save cushion for closer Sean Doolittle; the second night in a row they set up a 3-run save for him. He didn't need it; of course he retired the side in order, leaving us to wonder if maybe one of the best things to happen to the A's this season is the de facto closer job going to Doolittle.
The A's shined in just about ever facet of the game tonight; their two errors notwithstanding. They hit three home runs to get back in the game, and eventually take the lead, after being buried rather deep early. Jesse Chavez was in trouble from the very first swing of the bat; Brett Gardner hit a deep fly ball to open the game, but Craig Gentry simply ran it down and dove to catch it, keeping the speedy runner off the bases for Chavez. He would retire the Yankees in order in the second inning, but would have all kinds of trouble in the third.
Chavez walked Suzuki to lead off the third inning, and recorded a strikeout before allowing a single to put runners on first and third. The runner would steal second, and Derek Jeter would beat out an infield single to Lowrie, or in other words, Jeter's legs beat Lowrie's arm. Before you could even think about keeping this a 1-0 deficit, Jacoby Ellsbury deposited the third pitch he saw into the seats for a three-run home run, and before the A's could even blink, they were down the equivalent of a grand slam.
The ESPN announcers, who were simply lovely, and had a lot of insightful and interesting things to say about the A's, commented that perhaps this A's team's best strength is that there is no panic in them. Down 4-0 with their starting pitcher struggling on the mound, the whole team seemed to recognize that it was only the third inning, Chavez can pitch better than he has, the Yankees have had their struggles, and the A's have the best offense in the world right now. One of our announcers made the tongue-in-cheek reference to the A's going down early in another game this year and responding by scoring 11 unanswered runs. It wasn't 11, but it was 7 tonight, and it was a very methodical, deliberate, and patient comeback; not the flashy ninth inning walk-off, but rather an impressive chipping away for the remaining six innings until the game was tied and won.
Cespedes started the scoring for the A's with a home run on the second pitch of the fourth inning to cut the score to 4-1. Alberto Callaspo, who I still think has some of the best at-bats on the team, walked to open the fifth inning and moved to second on a Nick Punto single. Gentry moved the runners and a Jed Lowrie sacrifice fly crept the A's closer with their second run. This was enough to knock out the starting pitcher, who was not going to be allowed to pitch to Donaldson, so the A's were into the Yankees' bullpen in the fifth. Meanwhile, Chavez allowed two more hits in the fourth, but escaped with no damage, and retired the side in the fifth, perhaps worried about the A's comeback potential when he saw Jim Johnson lurking in the bullpen (I kid, I kid!).
The A's relentless comeback continued in the sixth, as Cespedes again hit the second pitch he saw into the seats, cutting the lead to 4-3. Jeter made an error on Norris' ground ball, allowing him to reach base with no one out and Moss at the plate. The Yankees countered with a lefty, but Moss laced a single up the middle, just out of the reach of an outstretched glove. Kyle Blanks was not asked to bunt (earning warm accolades from the ESPN announcers) and after swinging and missing to put himself into a 1-2 hole, he drew an extremely clutch walk, loading the bases. Callaspo worked one of his patented 9-pitch at-bats, and I'll be honest; for all the world I thought he hit a grand slam on the ninth pitch. The ball was caught at the warning track, just short of four runs, but it was enough to tie the game as a sacrifice fly. The announcers and I agree that Punto had one of the very few non-quality at-bats for the A's today, striking out with the go-ahead run on third, but still, no one was panicking. Chavez walked a batter in the sixth, and allowed a stolen base (the error moved the runner to third), but miraculously, he completed all six innings, giving way to Abad in the seventh.
But before he took the mound, another really fun thing happened. Not to be undone by Cespedes' two-home run show in Yankee Stadium, and after being 0-5 in the series entering tonight's game, Josh Donaldson put his own charge into the ball and unlocked the 4-4 tie with a home run of his own, for his third hit of the night.
Abad induced a ground out for the first out of the Yankees' seventh, but Lowrie made the second error of the night on a ball hit by Jeter. Unlike the A's, the Yankees were not able to capitalize on the shortstop error, as Abad allowed a single to put two on with one out, but his replacement, the underrated and unsung hero Dan Otero got Teixeira and McCann to ground out to end the inning.
The A's were unable to increase their 5-4 lead in the eighth; the only inning in the last five in which they didn't score, but after Otero survived a lead-off single in the Yankees' half of the eighth, the A's offense set the stage for Doolittle. Lowrie and Donaldson opened the inning with back-to-back singles, and Cespedes moved the runners over with a ground ball to the right side. After Norris was intentionally walked to load the bases, Moss was hit on the very first pitch to bring in the insurance run. I don't think that was intentional. Kyle Blanks notched the sac fly to give Doolittle the 7-4 cushion, and the closer needed just 10 pitches to shut the Yankees down and lock down the win.
With the win tonight, the A's have now won 5 in a row, and secure the series win, even with Masahiro Tanaka facing off against Drew Pomeranz tomorrow morning. I don't have to tell you that no one is panicking. What could be better than breakfast baseball with the A's as they go for a sweep of the Yankees in Yankee Stadium? Not much, I tell you what. Enjoy this team. Enjoy the spotlight. Invite a friend to the bandwagon. And enjoy the ride. See you tomorrow morning at 10:05.