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Game #96: Donaldson Walks it off with 3-Run Game Winner

It's just like the A's this season, isn't it? When all hope seemed lost, and the A's canoe was listlessly circling the river before being pulled under for a sure loss, the middle of the lineup stepped up in a big way in the bottom of the ninth. After Cespedes and Moss got themselves on base as the tying runs, the previously-slumping Josh Donaldson sent everybody home as he single-handedly took the A's from a 4-2 loss to a 5-4 win.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Hit4TheCycle: Cespedes Moss Donaldson. There’s some potential in that group.

If the first 2 can get on, it could be magic.

I had the recap mentally written. The A's had fallen to the Orioles 4-2 in the worst imaginable scenario at home; on the strength of a 2-run, 7th-inning home run by Manny Machado that broke the 2-2 tie and heaped insult upon injury. We could have talked about Jeff Samardzija not understanding the seriousness of not giving up game-winning hits to Machado, or Donaldson folding against the Orioles with a hitless night. It was all there, really. We could lament the Angels, their six-game winning streak (only a matter of time), their new Huston Street closer, and how the A's have the best record in baseball and are in serious danger of being dethroned atop the American League West. I also took the opportunity during innings five through eight to write a story about my A's journey with Jose Canseco, which I was going to post in lieu of a recap; because, after all, who wanted to read about tonight's game?

We could have talked about all that. And instead? We're celebrating tonight with pie.

It doesn't matter that this game wasn't fun until the bottom of the ninth inning, when the A's staged an epic comeback, erasing a two-run deficit and winning the game in one mighty swing of the bat. All that matters is that they did. And after an 0-3 night, last month's struggles, and the perceived rivalry against the third basemen of the A's and Orioles, there was no more fitting ending for Josh Donaldson to best Manny Machado with a three-run home run to erase the damage of Machado's two-run one.

The A's got on the board first tonight as Coco managed a two-out single in the third inning and would take second on a wild pitch. Jaso doubled him home, and the A's were up 1-0; quite a feat for their struggling offense. Samardzija would nurse the lead until the fifth inning, when he hit the lead-off batter and gave up a single to Machado to put two runners on base with no one out. Only a double-play prevented a really big inning as Schoop homered to give the Orioles a 2-1 lead.

Derek Norris tied the game with a solo shot in the A's half of the fifth, but trouble found Samardzija in the seventh. With one out, the pesky Hardy got on base again; this time with a single, which means he was on base when Manny Machado drove a ball deep into the Oakland night to give the Orioles the 4-2 lead; the home run that for all the world looked like it would stand as the game-winner.

It wasn't a great start for Samardzija. Despite six hits, four runs, and two hit batters (and Cook would hit yet another), Samardzija had thrown fewer than 100 pitches, so the A's were always going to let him start the seventh. Samardzija's two really terrible pitches were sent beyond the fence by the Orioles' homer-happy lineup for all of the runs. But the A's offense was quiet until the very end, which made the unexpected comeback just that much sweeter. Until the ninth inning, the A's had only managed hits by Crisp, Jaso, and Cespedes and a home run by Norris. Add in one walk to Crisp and that was the extent of the A's offense; they were probably lucky to parlay the four hits into two runs.

The A's defense kept them in the game; they turned three double-plays behind Samardzija (seven innings) and Cook (the eighth), including a nice turn in the seventh and a really nice foul catch in the ninth by Andy Parrino, who did his best to offset his hat trick. The A's turned the ninth inning over to Eric O'Flaherty, the "we're still in the game; not Doolittle close, but not Johnson lost either" choice of the night. Both Cook and O'Flaherty pitched scoreless innings, not knowing they would set the table for the ninth-inning dramatic heroics of the A's starting All Star.

We've been advertising the middle of the lineup as RUNS DMC, and when Cespedes, Moss and Donaldson were slated to start the ninth, it used to be the can't-miss inning. That feeling has faded slightly over the last few weeks; Cespedes is one of baseball's hottest players right now, but Donaldson has unquestionably been struggling. Maybe that's what made tonight all the more special; he needed it most. The A's crowd, the one that boo'd Machado so mercilessly tonight in support of Josh Donaldson was on the edge of their collective seats in the ninth, despite the late innings of despair that saw the A's mowed down 1, 2, 3 every inning. And they were finally rewarded.

Cespedes started off the inning with an infield single that Machado wisely chose not to throw. Cespedes couldn't have bunted any better. He was glued to first base; the tying run no matter which base he occupied, until Brandon Moss did the best he possibly could against the tough pitcher; he fisted a broken-bat single to right, moving Cespedes to third and putting himself on first as the tying run. While some were debating Vogt vs. Freiman in the on-deck circle, hoping that Donaldson would cut the deficit to a single run, Donaldson himself decided to go big or go home. He jumped on the very first pitch he saw and drove it over the center field fence, erasing the Orioles' 4-2 lead and giving the A's the 5-4 win.

It was magnificent. It was glorious. And it was all ours, notching the 60th win for the Oakland A's in this 2014 season. The teams will match up again tomorrow night as the A's Jason Hammel will take on Wei-Yin Chen at 6:05. We'll be back here with all the action. Enjoy that Pie