The older I get, the more I appreciate baseball as so much more than a game. What is it about this sport that keeps us coming back night after night, year after year, watching the same 27 outs; the same number of men on the field, the same pitches, uniforms, the same Oakland weather over 81 games at home and 81 on the road at the expense of other life events? It's because, like life, the emotions are strong and complex, and you care, you hope--you hope so much--even when you don't have a tangible reason. You can spend the length of an entire baseball game feeling hopeless, devoid of the magic that you once remember from the sport, and your team, and you can't imagine anything good ever happening again.
When your starting pitcher throws nine innings for the first time in eight years, while striking out eight and allowing just one run on a solo home run by A's-killer Torii Hunter, you'd like to win the game, because you think should. And because Scott Kazmir deserved it tonight. And speaking of things you should do, when you outscore your opponent by eight runs up through eight innings of the third game of a four-game series, you should probably win more than one game out of three. However, the A's were in very grave danger of losing two one-run games back to back after blowing out the first by ten. After losing the marquee pitcher's duel with their ace on the mound last night, and looking for all the world like they would squander a brilliant performance from Kazmir tonight after struggling so mightily for wins all week, things were looking bleak for the green and gold.
But as they say, life turns on a dime.
Just at the very moment when all seemed lost, as Sanchez spun pitch after pitch, turning them into out after out, the A's found something in the ninth inning that was missing for the two plus hours and eight full innings before; they found hope. Sparked by a nine pitch at-bat by pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo, ultimately resulting in an out, but costing Sanchez his pitch count, the A's strung together three "in play, miracle(s)", one off Sanchez and two off closer Joe Nathan, who wouldn't record an out in the game, and just like that, coming from a sure 1-0 loss, the A's walked it off with a Josh Donaldson bomb, as he continues his bid for a starting role in the All Star game, tying and winning the game in the same swing, and turning the "L" behind Kazmir's name to a "W", and taking the series from 1-2 to 2-1 with the final game still to come tomorrow.
This was a pitcher's duel for the ages; one I suspect will only be appreciated if you go back and watch the game already knowing the outcome, because the A's were doomed to lose 1-0 from the fourth inning on. Both pitchers pitched into the ninth inning, Kazmir finishing all nine, and Sanchez pitching to two batters in the ninth. Kazmir allowed six hits, Sanchez just three; both allowing just a single run. Kazmir struck out eight while walking no one; Sanchez struck out nine while allowing a walk.
Kazmir allowed a solo home run to Torii Hunter in the fourth for the Tigers' only run, and Sanchez made it stand up until the ninth inning, despite a Reddick walk in the third, a Donaldson single in the fourth for the A's first hit, and a Sogard double in the sixth.
Both teams used (and won) a replay tonight; the Tigers to reverse a double-play call in the second inning, which ultimately didn't matter except to hang a few extra pitches on Kazmir, but the A's won a gem of a replay on Kazmir's last batter. With two outs in the ninth, Miguel Cabrera smoked a ball to the outfield that Yoenis Cespedes played perfectly, and quickly. While Cabrera was trying to advance to second on the play (like a gazelle!), he was tagged out at least twice, and possibly a third time before the replay crew caught what the second base umpire clearly didn't (like a bat!) and that call was overturned as well.
The Tigers would not have a chance to swing the bat again in this game. After Callaspo's ground-out, Coco Crisp came to life and laced the second pitch he saw down the line for a double. This was all she wrote for Sanchez and his pitch count, so closer Nathan and his fancy closing job was called on to finish the game. He got John Jaso into a 0-2 hole early, preventing Coco from stealing third, but Jaso battled and eventually smoked a ball to the third baseman (that should have been caught, but quibbles!), ticking off his glove for a hit. Coco had to prevent the double play in case of a catch, so he scampered to third to put runners on the corners with one out.
The playoff-like mood at the Coliseum buzzed with energy as everyone thought to themselves, "HIT A FLY BALL". Donaldson cracked open a fire hydrant and obliged, hitting the first pitch he saw from Nathan for a fly ball all right, but not of the game-tying variety, but rather the game-winning, walking-off, pie-in-the-face one, which sent all of us into pure delirium as we had steeled ourselves for a loss and instead took home the sweetest of wins.
Also, Felix Hernandez dominated someone other than us, so the Angels drop back to 2.5 games behind the A's before the AL West showdown of the weekend. But the A's have to finish this one first; they look to win the 4-game series against the Tigers tomorrow as they will throw Jesse Chavez against Rick Porcello tomorrow at 12:35PM.
We'll be back in the battle tomorrow, but for now, just enjoy this one, as proof of why we do what we do, and why we're still screaming at our TV's after all of these years. I wouldn't have it any other way.