In a game featuring a pitching matchup of Clayton Kershaw against Felix Doubront, the Oakland A's beat the Los Angeles Dodgers on a walk-off double by Billy Butler. Let those words really sink in for a few moments, because they sound utterly ridiculous and yet they describe a real event that occurred tonight in a 5-4, 10-inning affair. It was like the antithesis of this entire 2015 A's season -- they beat the tough lefty, they completed the comeback, they won the one-run game, and Billy Butler not only grounded into zero double plays but also played the role of honest-to-god hero.
If you're looking for a key to this victory, let me suggest the Nos. 5-6 spots in the A's lineup. Batting fifth was Mark Canha, who is showing signs of life once again and was making his seventh straight start. Batting sixth was Billy Butler, who is going in the opposite direction in both regards -- declining further and further and beginning to lose playing time. Butler's specialty is grounding into double plays, since he only hits grounders and he's so slow that the fielders can bobble the ball or double-clutch or eat a hot dog and still make the throw in time to complete the deuce.
Things went differently for Butler tonight, though. In the second inning, Canha led off with a single, and the normal script called for Butler to step up and calmly eliminate him with a GIDP. Instead, Kershaw walked Butler on four pitches. What a twist! From there, the A's took the chance to manufacture a run -- Josh Reddick sacrificed the runners over, and Marcus Semien knocked one in with a groundout. It proved to be the only run they scored off of the three-time Cy Young award-winner, and it was made possible because Butler didn't ground into a double play. Okay, that's certainly an overstatement, given that Butler has "only" grounded into 22 twin-killings this year in 112 contests, but it sure feels like he does it every day and somehow he didn't do it this time against the hands-down best pitcher in the world who also happens to have pinpoint control and get tons of grounders.
From there, Canha didn't give Butler another chance to GIDP. He struck out to lead off the fourth, so when Butler grounded out there was nobody on base to double up. In the sixth, Canha singled, but he did it with two outs; Butler still lined out, but at least it wasn't a deflating double play. In the eighth, during a game-saving rally, Canha doubled to cut the deficit to 4-3 -- with no force at any base, Butler's subsequent groundout went down as a productive out to move up the runner rather than a rally-killing GIDP, and the A's went on to tie it. And then, to lead off the 10th, Canha doubled again, and once again Butler was unable to pull off his signature move. So instead of pounding the ball into the ground, he smacked a liner to right off of reliever Yimi Garcia to drive in the winning run.
And then there was pie.
Kershaw entered this game on a hot streak that few humans can match. Over his previous seven starts, he had an 0.82 ERA, and five of those seven outings were scoreless efforts of at least eight innings. Therefore, the fact that the A's managed to scratch together even one run off of him in seven frames has to be seen as something of a success, right? On the other side of the matchup, Doubront had one of the odder lines you'll likely see from a pitcher:
Doubront: 6 innings, 1 run (unearned), 1 hit, 6 walks, 8 Ks
I don't know if "effectively wild" is really the right description for this one or not, but it's a good starting point. Doubront seemed to get a lot of swings and misses on balls in the dirt, and indeed his 14 whiffs overall add up to an excellent 13.5% swinging strike rate (league-average is 9.8%). But he also clearly struggled to hit the zone when needed, and he was fortunate that the Dodgers weren't able to make enough contact to drive in more of the walks he allowed. It's possible the two things were related, and that whatever pitch/strategy/style was allowing him to keep the Dodgers waving also yielded a few extra free passes as a natural byproduct, but it's just as likely that Doubront simply walks too many guys and got away with it this time because the opponent couldn't come up with the big hit.
After seven innings, the game had become a battle of the bullpens. With a 1-1 score at stake, Pat Venditte recorded five outs and gave way to Fernando Rodriguez to finish the eighth. And then the 2015 A's did their thing. Rodriguez only needed one out, but an infield hit put a runner on base, and another single made it two, and then A.J. Ellis blasted a three-run homer to give the Dodgers the lead. Ellis entered the day with two dingers on the year and an OPS+ of 81, but in this game he walked four times and notched his team's only big hit. Sounds about right. With the score 4-1, the game looked over for all intents and purposes.
But then, something happened. The normal shutdown inning didn't follow. It started as an eighth-inning teAse at first -- Kershaw was out of the game, and the A's greeted reliever Pedro Baez with a single and a double. Rather than leaving the runners in scoring position, though, Canha came through with a shot into the gap in right-center to plate both runners. Three batters later, Semien roped a liner off of lefty J.P. Howell to tie the game.
The A's have actually been decent at forcing ties late in games this year and even sending them to extra innings, but they have not been good at finishing off those comebacks and turning them into wins. This time, it only took four pitches into the bonus frame to get the job done. Canha knocked a double to lead off the 10th, and Butler hit the first pitch he saw for the walk-off. Just like that, the guy who always seems to blow it was the guy who ended up winning it. Forget the bad contract, forget the putrid stats, and just enjoy Billy Butler as the hero for one day. We can yell about him again tomorrow.
Mark Canha was the engine of the lineup tonight, going 4-for-5 with a pair of doubles and factoring into every single A's run by either driving it in (3) or scoring it (2). Danny Valencia and Josh Reddick also had good days at the plate, and Semien and Josh Phegley each came up with one big hit. But it was Butler who put the finishing touches on the most unlikely victory of 2015. It was the one where they faced Kershaw and lived to tell the tale, the one where the big comeback actually snatched victory from the jaws of defeat rather than merely delaying the inevitable, and the one where Country Breakfast sent Oakland to a one-run win in extras.
Tune into any given baseball game and you might see damn well anything.