Before Sunday, A’s left-hander Scott Kazmir had faced his former team, the Los Angeles Angels, three times since playing for them from 2009 to 2011, and the results had been consistently bad.
In those three starts, Kazmir had lasted 71/3 innings and allowed 18 runs. This, he acknowledged, led to some good-natured heckling from some Angels players who had been his teammates in Los Angeles.
“They’ve got a lot of ammo,” Kazmir said.
Sunday, though, was Kazmir’s chance to return fire after taking a shutout into the eighth inning in the A’s 3-2 win over the Angels. Kazmir admitted it felt “a little bit special to pitch well against the Angels,” and he said he took the opportunity to jab former teammate Erick Aybar, who entered the game 6 for 8 against him and had been one of his main hecklers.
Aybar singled off Kazmir in the fourth inning Sunday on an inside cutter, of which Kazmir said, “I don’t know how he got the bat to it.” But after retiring Aybar on a groundout to start the seventh, with the A’s leading 3-0, Kazmir said there was “a little trash-talking” on his end.
“‘I own you,’ or something like that,” Kazmir said, grinning.
It has mostly been the other way around, as Kazmir entered Sunday with career numbers against the Angels of 2-5 with a 7.56 ERA – his highest ERA against any team he’s faced at least twice. Kazmir allowed nine baserunners Sunday and was pitching out of the stretch in seven of his eight innings, yet managed to weave through the traffic. He was charged with a run after his eighth-inning walk of Johnny Giavotella, who scored when Albert Pujols homered against Tyler Clippard.
That has been a specialty of Kazmir’s this season. He went into Sunday with opponents hitting .179 against him with runners on base this season, the lowest average against any American League starter. Angels hitters came up 13 times against Kazmir with a runner on base Sunday and managed just two hits.
Kazmir said he was spotting pitches mostly where he wanted to Sunday and that working his cutter inside to right-handers resulted in some quick outs. Catcher Stephen Vogt said Kazmir varied the velocity of his fastball effectively, throwing it from 88 to 94 mph, to keep the Angels off-balance. Manager Bob Melvin said it looked like Kazmir “was pretty unpredictable today.”
The A’s, meanwhile, saw their run of strong starting pitching continue. A’s starters have a 1.98 ERA over their last 11 games and have allowed one run or fewer 16 times in their last 28 games. Their rotation’s ERA of 3.00 is the best in the A.L., and they have three of the A.L.’s seven ERA leaders in Sonny Gray, Jesse Chavez and Kazmir.
Kazmir has a 1.93 ERA in his last five starts and is 4-0 with a 1.09 in six starts this year against A.L. West teams. For the first time in a while Sunday, that success encompassed an outing against the Angels.
“Being my old team, and knowing some of the guys on that team, it felt good,” Kazmir said. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t.”
▪ Kazmir pitched deep enough to allow Melvin to go directly from his starter to his closer for the second consecutive game. It still made for another long outing for Clippard, who threw 28 pitches in a four-out save Saturday and 34 more in a five-out save Sunday.
Before Sunday, the most pitches Clippard had thrown in a two-day span in the majors was 61, on Aug. 30-31, 2010, according to baseball-reference.com. He eclipsed that by one this weekend.
“I felt good,” Clippard said. “Probably feel it tomorrow, but got it done.”
▪ It was an eventful day for Brett Lawrie, who singled in a run, made a circus catch while tripping over the mound in the A’s bullpen and was picked off trying to steal third on a play that required a review that lasted more than five minutes.
The latter happened in the second inning, after Lawrie doubled with one out. With Angels third baseman David Freese playing closer to the shortstop area against Ike Davis, Lawrie took off for third base before Davis was even in the batter’s box.
“It’s a pretty heady play,” Melvin said. “No one’s paying attention to him, third baseman’s quite a ways away. It took an absolutely perfect throw to get him, then there’s probably still some debate on whether he got him or not.”
Lawrie was first called safe, then out, when umpire Greg Gibson ruled Lawrie had over-slid the bag and been tagged by Freese. The A’s challenged the call, and after a review of 5 minutes, 14 seconds, the crew in New York confirmed the call – but ruled that Freese tagged Lawrie before he reached the base, not after. An official explanation said the crew is obligated to look at all facets of the play to come to a correct ruling.
Oddly, the outcome left Melvin wondering if he could retain his challenge, since what he had challenged was the tag after the play. That led the umpiring crew to go back to the headsets between innings and check with the replay office in New York, which decided Melvin could not keep his challenge. Still, Melvin lauded the Oakland crew for checking.
“There’s never been that precedent before,” he said. “So I really credit them with trying to get the right thing done.”
Back to Lawrie, his over-the-shoulder catch as he tripped on the bullpen mound secured the second out of the fourth inning, with a runner on and the A’s still leading by one run. They scored twice in the sixth, with Lawrie driving in the first with a single off Garrett Richards after he’d fallen behind by two strikes.
“He was definitely the player of the game today,” Vogt said.
▪ Melvin summed up the weekend as a “spirited series.” The A’s blew a 7-2 lead in the seventh inning in a 12-7 loss Friday. They rode Jesse Hahn to a 4-1 win Saturday, then watched Clippard nail down Sunday’s win by retiring Giavotella on a 365-foot fly ball to left field.
The result: The A’s have won six of their last eight games, eight of 12 at home, and are 10 games under .500, which matches the closest they’ve been to .500 since May 12.
▪ For whatever reason, it was a good day for quotes in the A’s clubhouse. An unofficial top five:
Melvin, on whether he got to keep his challenge after the Lawrie play: “I didn’t. Or I’d have brought it in here (to the interview room) with me.”
Vogt, on winning on Father’s Day: “You feel for the Angels, ’cause their dads were watching them, too.”
Clippard, on lobbying Melvin to go back out for the ninth inning: “I didn’t come here to lay up, you know what I mean? If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it.”
Clippard, on throwing 62 pitches over two days: “It’s not something that I think is conducive to health for a long period of time.”
And Vogt, on his reaction to Giavotella’s long, game-ending fly ball: “Off the bat, my mind did not go to good places.”
▪ The next place the A’s go is Globe Life Park in Arlington for a three-game series against the Texas Rangers that starts Tuesday. The pitching probables:
Tuesday: RHP Jesse Chavez (3-6, 2.52) vs. RHP Chi Chi Gonzalez (2-1, 0.90)
Wednesday: RHP Kendall Graveman (3-4, 4.02) vs. LHP Wandy Rodriguez (4-2, 3.20)
Thursday: RHP Sonny Gray (8-3, 1.95) vs. RHP Colby Lewis (7-3, 4.08)