During the bottom of the eighth inning Sunday, TV cameras showed A’s closer Tyler Clippard sitting stony-faced in the dugout, his right arm wrapped tightly in a white towel.
On Saturday, that arm had thrown 28 pitches. Sunday, Clippard had entered the top of the eighth inning and thrown 18 more, allowing a two-run home run to Angels slugger Albert Pujols that trimmed a three-run A’s lead to one. Yet as Clippard sat there, watching the A’s go down in order in the eighth, nobody was warming up in the home bullpen.
In nine major-league seasons, Clippard had never thrown more than 61 pitches in a two-day span. He was at 32 for Sunday – and 60 for the weekend – when the Angels’ Johnny Giavotella came up with two outs in the ninth and a runner on first. On Clippard’s 62nd pitch in two days, Giavotella hit a towering fly ball to left field.
“Off the bat,” A’s catcher Stephen Vogt said, “my mind did not go to good places.”
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“I thought it was gone,” Clippard agreed.
Left fielder Sam Fuld retreated to the warning track – then turned back to face the field, standing where the Coliseum wall juts out to 367 feet before angling back in. Fuld closed his glove on the ball, and Clippard had his second save of more than one inning in as many days, preserving a 3-2 A’s win.
“That’s hard to ask a guy to do that two days in a row,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said of Clippard, who recorded four outs Saturday. “Originally I was just going to have him for (the eighth Sunday). I just wanted to go through the middle of the order with him, then if it’s 3-0 (in the ninth), we try to do something different.”
Starter Scott Kazmir held the Angels scoreless for seven innings and departed with one out in the eighth and Giavotella on first base, the result of a leadoff walk. Melvin called Clippard in to face reigning American League MVP Mike Trout, who flied out on a full-count changeup. Clippard then went to a full count against Pujols – after Pujols failed to check his swing on the 3-1 pitch – and threw Pujols a 93-mph fastball.
“I basically just wanted to challenge him,” Clippard said. “A guy like that, that probably wasn’t the smartest thought process on my part.”
Pujols hammered the pitch into the bleachers in left-center field. Clippard then allowed a single to David Freese but struck out Erick Aybar to preserve a one-run lead. Returning to the A’s dugout, Clippard “talked me into going back out there” for the ninth inning, Melvin said.
“I didn’t come here to lay up, you know what I mean?” said Clippard, using a golf term for a safer shot. “If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it. Once I’m in the game and I’m hot, I want to finish it. That’s my job.”
An error by first baseman Ike Davis on pinch hitter Matt Joyce’s routine chopper put the tying run on base for the Angels with one out, but Clippard struck out Efren Navarro and – on his 34th pitch of the afternoon – recorded his 12th save via Giavotella’s flyout.
“I wouldn’t have been out there if I didn’t feel good,” Clippard said. “Just a little soreness, but that’s normal for relievers. … Probably feel it tomorrow, but got it done.
“It’s not something I’m going to be able to do a lot,” he said of the back-to-back extended outings. “But if I can do that, especially in these kind of games – and we need wins right now – I’m happy to do it.”
Unsaid after the game was what Melvin’s use of Clippard the past two days implies about the A’s bullpen overall. Both Saturday and Sunday, strong outings by A’s starters – Jesse Hahn allowed one run in 72/3 innings and Kazmir one run in 71/3 – reduced the number of outs Melvin had to ask from his bullpen, which has a majors-worst 4.77 ERA.
Still, Melvin went both times directly to his closer in the eighth inning and did not even have a pitcher warming up behind Clippard on Sunday until Fernando Rodriguez began throwing with two outs in the ninth. Clippard now has three saves of four or more outs on the season. He entered 2015 with zero in his career.
“Give him a lot of credit – that’s a very difficult thing to do,” Melvin said of the back-to-back one-plus-inning saves. “And probably won’t ask him to do that again this year.”
Then Melvin added: “I say ‘probably.’”