OAKLAND -- Nate Freiman muscled up on a 1-2 first-inning curveball from Erik Bedard for his first major-league home run Monday night while carrying a weight of melancholy on the shoulders of his 6-foot-8 frame.
Freiman, who attended Wellesley High School outside Boston, Mass., said he learned of the bombings at Monday's Boston Marathon via a phone call from family members who still live in the area, so he knew immediately they were all right. But the events of the day continued to occupy his thoughts even after the rookie's three-run homer keyed the A's 11-2 win over the Houston Astros at the Coliseum.
"I grew up in Wellesley, which is the halfway point of the marathon," Freiman said. "Every year we'd go down and watch the runners go by. We used to have season tickets to the Red Sox in the early 90s, and we'd go to the Patriots Day game, the 11 a.m. game, and sit really close to home.
"It's a great night in Oakland, great to get that win after two losses, great to see Tommy (Milone) throw the way he did. But for everyone in Boston, we're all of us thinking about them."
Freiman had gotten into just six games before Friday and gone hitless in his last 11 at-bats. The A's claimed the first baseman off waivers from the Astros in late March as a backup and right-handed complement to Brandon Moss. As a Rule 5 draft pick by the Astros from San Diego after last season, he must spend the entire season on the A's active roster or be offered back to the Padres. He played last year in Double-A.
When he came up in the first inning Monday, getting a start at designated hitter against the left-hander Bedard, the A's already led 3-0 thanks to four walks by Bedard and Moss' two-run single. Freiman fell behind 1-2, then got a hanging curveball from Bedard and crushed it to left field. It defied the swirling winds above the Coliseum, which gave the outfielders of both teams fits all night, to land several rows deep in the bleachers.
Freiman circled the bases and returned to the dugout, where teammates at first gave him the silent treatment. When he had walked all the way to the far end, they formed a tunnel and Freiman, certainly the tallest player on the team, ducked his head and ran through with a smile.
"It was cool," he said. "It was a great feeling. Something that I've hoped that I would be fortunate enough to do. And I'm really, really excited about it."
Back in the clubhouse after the game, he found the home run ball in his locker. He said he and his wife are hoping to buy a house over the next offseason. If that works out, he said, he'll find "somewhere special" for the ball. It will be a slightly scuffed reminder of what Freiman called a "bittersweet" day.
"For me, it's a dream come true," he said. "For my family, thankful that everyone's safe. But for a lot of families back where I come from, it's a nightmare.
"Amazing feeing today. But we're not going to forget about what happened in Boston, and thoughts and prayers are with everybody there."
Staked to a six-run lead before he threw a pitch, A's starter Tommy Milone wanted to pound the strike zone against the Astros and did, throwing 71 of 100 pitches for strikes over his 6 2/3 innings. Milone allowed two runs on eight hits and struck out six while improving to 3-0 on the season.
"I felt like no matter what pitch (catcher Derek Norris) put down, I feel like I was able to throw it for a strike," Milone said.
Milone retired nine of the first 10 hitters he faced and allowed single runs in the fourth and seventh innings. He was one out away from getting out of the seventh unscored upon but allowed back-to-back singles to Brandon Barnes and Jose Altuve that ended his night. Sean Doolittle struck out Justin Maxwell to end the inning, and Pat Neshek and Grant Balfour closed out the game.
While Bedard was certainly wild in the shortest outing of his big-league career (1/3 of an inning, two hits, six runs allowed, four walks, one strikeout), the A's did an admirable job of not helping him. Coco Crisp, Norris and Chris Young all walked to start the game and, after Jed Lowrie struck out and Bedard made a wild pitch allowing one run to score, Josh Donaldson also walked to re-load the bases ahead of Moss and Freiman.
"The first inning's the key to the game and it was patience," manager Bob Melvin said. "Sometimes, a couple guys are on, you're eager to swing. But they passed the baton to the next guy and it ended up being a big inning."
At 10-4, the A's have the best record in the American League and have matched their best start since 1992. Four of their wins have come against the Astros, whom they have outscored by a combined total of 34-11.
Crisp, who returned after missing two games with a strained left groin, walked in the eighth and went from first to third on Norris' double. He stopped abruptly rounding the base and started stretching the groin on a very cold night. Melvin immediately inserted Seth Smith to pinch run. Melvin later said the move was precautionary -- but maybe not "pre" enough.
"Once the game got to 9-2, I probably should've taken him out based on his groin and as cold as it was," Melvin said. "But once he went first to third and ran hard, that was all I needed to see right there. So I just wanted to make sure he was healthy."