A’s start second half on the right foot with Donaldson’s walk-off homer

Published: Friday, Jul. 18, 2014 - 11:28 pm

OAKLAND -- Before coming up to bat in the ninth inning against Orioles closer Zach Britton on Friday night, A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson said he turned to teammate Scott Kazmir in the dugout in a moment of bluntness.

"I was like, ‘Man, I need something good to happen,’" said Donaldson, who despite making his first All-Star team entered the second half batting just .238. "Just to get everything kick-started.

"I didn’t know it was going to be a three-run, game-winning homer. But I’ll take it."

The A’s picked up right where they left off at the All-Star Break on Friday night, going into the ninth inning trailing Baltimore, 4-2, and winning on Donaldson’s third career walk-off homer to improve to 60-36, the majors’ best record.

It was the A’s seventh walk-off win of the season. Yoenis Cespedes led off the inning beating out an infield single and Brandon Moss hit a broken-bat flare to right field that fell in for a single, sending Cespedes to third.

Donaldson then jumped on the first pitch from the left-hander Britton, a 96 mph sinker down but over the middle of the plate, and hit it over the wall in straightaway center for his 21st homer of the year and just the third allowed in 42 appearances by Britton.

"We’ve seen it happen many times here," manager Bob Melvin said. "We’re going to play all 27 outs, and (tonight) did it all with nobody out in the ninth."

Melvin said that seeing Donaldson come up in that situation, "You kind of have that feeling of, ‘Really, could this happen?’ We’ve seen JD come up so big for us in those big at-bats."

Still, Donaldson had entered the break in an offensive rut, batting .159 with three homers over his previous 32 games. Donaldson said in the two weeks leading up to the break he had been feeling "more comfortable in the box, and getting a better idea of what I want to do up there. Just so happened tonight I feel like I was right there.

Against Britton, whom Donaldson said "throws probably the best left-handed sinker in the game," the third baseman was looking for a pitch slightly up to avoid grounding into a double play, which likely would have scored Cespedes from third but killed a budding rally. Melvin said it also probably helped that with Britton throwing so hard, a right-handed hitter isn’t going to try to pull a pitch.

"In our place it’s tough to hit it out there in center field," Melvin said. "But when he (Donaldson) squares one up, it’s going to go out anywhere."

The walk-off earned Donaldson two whipped-cream pies in the face -- delivered by his fellow All-Star Cespedes with Josh Reddick on the disabled list -- and a Gatorade shower courtesy of Derek Norris and Stephen Vogt. Cespedes, of course, also bested Donaldson in a swing-off in the Home Run Derby in Minneapolis, part of an All-Star experience that Donaldson said actually may have benefited his swing.

Instead of having a four-day break, competing in the Derby and the All-Star Game "gave me the opportunity to continue to work," Donaldson said, allowing him to carry over the improvements he’d felt in the previous weeks at the plate into the second half.

Donaldson hit just four home runs in the Derby -- three in the first round and one more in the swing-off with Cespedes -- but he smiled when asked if he came out of the event with his swing unaffected.

"Everybody kept saying how it was going to mess my swing up," he said. "Maybe it was the fact I didn’t really hit a lot of homers in the Home Run Derby.

"With that being said," he added, "I think I saved a couple."

* Before Donaldson’s game-winner, it looked like the biggest swing of the night would belong to Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, who hit a two-run home run off Jeff Samardzija in the seventh inning to give Baltimore a 4-2 lead.

Machado and Donaldson, of course, were in the middle of a bench-clearing dustup when these teams met in Baltimore in June that touched off a series of odd events in the series, culminating in Machado being ejected and later suspended for tossing his bat toward the third-base area on the follow-through of a swing.

Machado was booed loudly when he took the field Friday and before each of his at-bats by an announced Coliseum crowd of 27,232. But it appeared he might get the last laugh after he lined a first-pitch fastball from Samardzija just inside the foul pole in left field to break open a tied game.

Melvin and Donaldson were both asked if they considered the coincidence of Donaldson delivering the game-winning hit to nullify that of Machado.

"Certainly there’s a little irony involved in the whole thing," Melvin said. "But as the game started, I don’t think either team was thinking about that.

"Our fans came out and there was some heckling and so forth. But I think Machado handled it pretty well, and certainly ends up with a huge at-bat."

Donaldson said: "I try not to get caught up in all that jazz. He had a really good day today but we’re going out there trying to win a game. Fortunately enough, my teammates put me in the opportunity where I could win the game, and that just turned out to be the way it happened."

* Samardzija allowed four runs in seven innings on two swings -- a pair of two-run home runs by Machado and No. 9 hitter Jonathan Schoop. Schoop’s in the fifth inning came on a full-count slider and Machado’s on a first-pitch fastball -- both of which Melvin said he thought were actually good pitches.

The slider to Schoop came after Schoop had fouled off multiple fastballs, while the pitch to Machado was inside and fairly low -- perhaps just not low enough given that he came in to the right-hander, Melvin said. Samardzija said he wasn’t surprised that Machado did turn on the pitch, but, "I was surprised he kept it fair."

"That was pretty impressive to keep his hands through like that and wrap that baby around the pole," he said.

As Samardzija pointed out, this is his first time facing a lot of A.L. hitters after spending his entire career in the N.L. with the Cubs. Pitchers always go over scouting reports with the catcher and pitching coach before starts, but there are tendencies that Samardzija will pick up as he actually faces these hitters in person.

"Don’t think I’m not going to have that one noted, that he can turn on a ball like that," Samardzija said of Machado. "So again, we’ll check out the film and see what we need to do next time we face these guys."

* One blot on Samardzija’s line -- he did hit two batters, including J.J. Hardy in the fifth, who eventually scored on Machado’s homer. Hardy was struck around the helmet by a high fastball. Ryan Cook also later hit Adam Jones with a high fastball that caught Jones high on the left shoulder.

Given the recent history between the teams, it might have raised some hackles, but there was nothing to suggest in a close game that the pitches were intentional. No A’s players were hit. Samardzija was asked what he’d known about the Machado incidents from June and said, "Just from what I’d seen on TV previous. But we’re professionals; we’re not trying to do anything out of line."

* Cespedes had two hits, both singles, snapping the 0-for-19 streak that he’d carried into the break. It had been the longest hitless streak of Cespedes’ career.

* Derek Norris hit a solo homer in the fifth off Orioles starter Chris Tillman for his ninth of the season, matching his total from last year. Norris hit nine last year in 264 at-bats; he hit his ninth this season in his 199th at-bat.

* Andy Parrino had an impressive game at second base, hanging in to turn a couple of double plays despite aggressive take-out slides by Orioles runners and making a lunging catch on a Hardy foul ball in the ninth.

Parrino had the nickname "The Magician" while at Triple-A Sacramento early this year, so his defense isn’t in question. His line at the plate Friday night, though: 0-for-3 with three strikeouts. The A’s continue to get little offensive production from the second base position, which contributed a .225 average in the first half.

* Samardzija hasn’t been around long, but he said he has picked this up about Donaldson and his seeming flair for the dramatic:

"He loves those spots," Samardzija said. "Just from being here for two weeks, I can tell that. He kind of get these big eyes, he gets excited, and that’s the guy you want up in that situation, with two outs in the ninth."

Donaldson delivered on Friday night, giving the A’s their ninth win in 12 games and striking a positive tone to begin the second half. This series continues Saturday evening with A’s right-hander Jason Hammel looking for his first win in Oakland, opposing the Orioles’ left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (9-3, 4.15).

There will be a pre-game ceremony on the field honoring the 1989 A’s team, which won the franchise’s last World Series championship. First pitch at 6:05 p.m.


Call The Bee’s Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. See his baseball coverage at sacbee.com/mlb. Follow him on Twitter at @matthewkawahara.

Read more articles by Matt Kawahara



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