You could say it was “automatic”. Yoenis Cespedes did what he has all year.
With two on and nobody out in the bottom of the ninth, he went deep for the seventh time, pushing the A’s to a 4-1 victory and sweep over the National League leading Los Angeles Dodgers.
When Cespedes came to the plate, it was a given. Everyone thought walk-off. It was a bomb that everyone could feel was about to go off, and provided Cespedes’ first major league career walk-off.
“This was our first sweep at home, (at least it felt like it),” said Oakland Manager Bob Melvin. “We’ve said we wanted to play a lot better at home. They can beat you in a number of ways. They have great pitching, low scoring games. We swung the bats a little bit better each day.”
Cespedes has been one of the most electrifying players in baseball this season, crashing recklessly into walls to make catches and hitting towering, mammoth home runs late in games. The A’s finally have a true slugger back on the squad.
Oakland had a tough task ahead of them Thursday, as they had to face last year’s NL Cy Young Award winner, Clayton Kershaw. Coming into the game, Kershaw was 5-3 with a 2.86 ERA.
The A’s got on the board early in the second when Jonny Gomes doubled to left field, as Elian Herrera dove to get the ball, but came up empty. After a wild pitch from Kershaw, Brandon Inge hit a sacrifice fly deep to the warning track in left to score Gomes and put Oakland up 1-0.
A’s starter Travis Blackley was perfect through three until Herrera doubled to left center and first baseman Juan Rivera singled down the right field line to score Herrera and tie the game at one with two out in the fourth. Blackley picked off Rivera at first to end the inning and preserve the tie.
While Kershaw had only given up one run through three, it was clear he didn’t have his best stuff – as he was uncharacteristically inaccurate, walking Weeks to lead off the fourth, then walking Inge with two out to put two on for the red hot Brandon Moss. He drew the count to 3-2, but Kershaw proved why he is a Cy Young winner, striking him out to end the inning.
Blackley continued to sail until the seventh with two out, when Rivera ripped a double down the left field line, but then got Jerry Hairston, Jr. to fly out to Gomes in left to end the inning. Blackley retired the side in order in the eighth, marking the longest start of his treacherous major league career that began in 2004. Before his last start, Blackley’s last win was in his major league debut on July 1, 2004. That is the fourth longest streak in the expansion era, and longest since Vicente Romo went eight years and three days between wins from 1974 to 1982.
Melvin explained that when the A’s claimed Blackley off waivers from San Francisco, that it was intended to have depth at the position, even possibly at Triple-A. However, Blackley has pitched himself into the spot he’s at now by starting in a reliever role and has progressed into the starter role, which he is performing well above expectations.
“To pitch eight innings today, going into the game I never would have envisioned that,” said Melvin.
Ryan Cook came in to pitch the ninth for the A’s, as Blackley recorded his best major league start of his career. He went eight innings, giving up three hits on one run with six strikeouts and no walks. He threw 87 pitches, 67 for strikes.
“Travis was terrific,” said Melvin. “His ball strike ratio was as good as we’ve seen, and that’s how he got deep into this game. He’s pitched six innings, that’s as far as he’s gone. Eight innings is fine. It’s not a closer situation, so you bring your next best guy in there and he did the job for us.”
It looked like things were getting dicey in the ninth when Cook walked catcher Matt Treanor, but when shortstop Dee Gordon laid down a bunt, Inge charged and made a great throw to second to get the lead runner. Gordon then attempted to steal second, but in his first game for the A’s – catcher Derek Norris gunned him at second to leave no runners on and Herrera at the plate, who Cook struck out to end the ninth.
Kershaw continued to get stronger as the day went on, retiring the side in the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth innings, but was done after eight, giving way to Josh Lindblom. Kershaw threw an excellent game, giving up just the one run, three hits and two walks while striking out six.
“Anytime you beat a guy like Kershaw, after winning two and having your fifth starter match him pitch for pitch, once you get a guy out of the game, you feel really good about your chances to win,” said Melvin.
Lindblom walked Coco Crisp to lead off the bottom of the ninth. Following a wild pitch with Jemile Weeks at the plate, it put Crisp in scoring position with no out. Weeks laid down a perfect bunt down the third baseline for the second night in a row, and as Lindblom turned to throw to third- no one was there and Weeks picked up an infield single.
“You get a guy like Coco on, and a lot of the focus is on him,” said Melvin. “Weeks had a great bunt, regardless if they knew it was coming or not. You peek at third for one second and you miss him at first.”
Cespedes then came to the plate with runners on the corners and no out. It seemed everyone in the stadium knew what would happen next, when he roped a 1-0 offering deep to left to end the game for a three-run homer. As the ball curved around the foul pole and Cespedes admired his game winning shot, the Coliseum erupted into excitement and jubilation.
“Yoenis put the same swings on the last two nights – that ball was hit pretty hard,” said Melvin. “A lot of times that thing hooks foul, but it didn’t have time to.”
Having split two World Series appearances between the clubs, (the A’s winning in ’74 and the Dodgers in ’88) the two teams have a historic rivalry. The Dodgers haven’t had much success in regular season interleague play however, as the A’s have now won 16 of 25, and 12 of 14 at the Coliseum. The Dodgers have not won in Oakland since June 24, 2004.
It was only fitting that Thursday marked “Throwback Thursdays” with the A’s, as three-time world champion “Blue Moon” Odom threw the first pitch. Odom was great for the “Swingin’ A’s” during those three consecutive championships from ’72-74 – posting a career 3-1 postseason record with a 1.13 ERA and 27 strikeouts.
With the win, the A’s move to within two games of .500 at 34-36, going into the Bay Bridge series versus San Francisco this weekend. Friday’s game will feature A’s rookie Jarrod Parker (3-3, 2.82) against two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, (2-8, 6.19) who the A’s beat in the May series earlier this year.