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Spring Game #35: A dang balk, a one night stand, and a backyard baseball dream

The Oakland A's left nine men aboard, but I'm not sure anybody cared. Barry Zito was back for one night only. But baseball is back for another summer.

Barry Zito on the mound at the Coliseum in an A's uniform.
Barry Zito on the mound at the Coliseum in an A's uniform.
Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

The Athletics lost the spring training finale to the San Francisco Giants by the score of 2-1. Your recap in three acts:

Act I

Drew Pomeranz, Oakland's fifth starter, ran into pitch count trouble early, but managed five innings in 84 pitches. He faced just one over the minimum in his first two innings, but reached 39 pitches because he worked four full counts in the process.

The A's seemed to be giving Tim Hudson a challenge in the early going as well. Ben Zobrist doubled and Billy Butler walked in the first, and then Marcus Semien singled and Eric Sogard walked in the second, but none of them scored.

In the third, Brandon Crawford led things off with a bunt single in the grass on the first base side where it takes a well-oiled defense to avoid running into trouble. Drew Pomeranz was slow to cover, however, and Ike Davis had no one to throw to. Pomeranz avoided further trouble, and the game remained scoreless.

Pomeranz's troubles began in the fourth inning after giving up a one-out walk to Buster Posey. Posey advanced to third on Casey McGhee's two-out single, and then Justin Maxwell doubled to score Posey, while the rumbling McGhee stopped at third.

Brandon Crawford came up again with Drew Pomeranz assuming his stance on the mound, one hand resting on his back. Pomeranz moved his hand off his back, moved it to his side, and then stopped to step off the pitcher's plate. There's another name for those actions with runners on, a balk.

A dang balk. Drew Pomeranz found himself in violation of Rule 8.01(b) paragraph 2:

Preparatory to coming to a set position, the pitcher shall have one hand on his side; from this position he shall go to his set position as defined in Rule 8.01(b) without interruption and in one continuous motion.

Casey McGhee came home from third base to score the Giants' second run. Brandon Crawford grounded out to Ike Davis at first base to end that fourth inning, the A's trailing 2-0.

Ike Davis hit a double to lead off the fourth, Oakland's first base runner with fewer than two outs on the day, but three ground ball outs ended his trip on the basepaths. Eric Sogard opened some hope with a single in the fifth, only to be erased when Craig Gentry grounded into a 6-4-3 double play.

Pomeranz exited after the fifth, having given up four singles, a double, two walks, and a balk.

Act II

Barry Zito entered.

Each out was treasured by the crowd. A comebacker speared was cheered as if it meant the good guys had clinched the division. A strikeout of some guy wearing a number in the high-80s celebrated as if it completed a perfect game. Zito covering first base to complete a 1-2-3 inning? Might as well be Eckersley at Candlestick. He exited to raucous cheers and gave his appreciative fans a tip of the hat on his way into the dugout, his first time through the third base dugout in nine years. He is headed to Nashville, but dang it the crowd tonight was eager for a comeback story.

Perhaps energized from the mood of the faithful, the A's finally pushed a run across in the bottom of the sixth against reliever Yusmeiro Petit. Ben Zobrist singled to lead off the inning, Oakland's third consecutive leadoff base runner. Billy Butler nearly advanced Zobrist had it not been for a spectacular diving catch by center fielder Gregor Blanco:

Ike Davis singled next to move Zobrist to third with just one out. Brett Lawrie hit a line drive to left that was just within range of left fielder Juan Perez, scoring Zobrist on the sacrifice fly.

After then it is a bit of a blur. For the A's, Ryan Doolittle, Seth Frankoff, and Kevin Whelan recorded scoreless seventh, eighth, and ninth innings, respectively. Frankoff struck out the side. The A's were similarly blanked in the seventh and eighth innings by Tim Lincecum and George Kontos.


In the ninth, Javier Lopez entered one a one-run advantage and was terribly ineffective. Chad Pinder worked a pinch hit walk, and then Mark Canha singled so advance the tying run to second. Bruce Bochy elected to bring in right-hander Hunter Strickland with Marcus Semien, Josh Phegley, and Billy Burns due up.

Semien struck out to start us off. Josh Phegley hit a handing slider that easily cleared the fence but just to the wrong side of the left field foul pole:

One pitch later, he struck out too. Finally, Billy Burns stepped up and the tension mounted.

Strickland and Burns took the count to 3-2. Both sides' partisans leapt to their feet, urging their man to end the game one way or another. The backyard baseball dream had come back to our 48-year-old concrete bowl, Billy Burns and Hunter Strickland, two men whose goals at that moment seemed completely in line with their family names, were its stars.

The villains in this little play won the day. Billy Burns struck out, and the season that doesn't count was over.

The Athletics are 0-0. Get ready for baseball.