OAKLAND -- Billy Butler remembers Aaron Brooks’ first major-league start. It came last May 31, when Butler was still playing for the Kansas City Royals and Brooks was still in the Royals’ farm system, called up to make an emergency start in Toronto.
"He got to Toronto and they didn’t even have his cleats or nothing," Butler said. "He got there like three hours before the game. I think it unraveled on him."
Brooks didn’t get out of the first inning in that game. He faced 11 batters and 10 of them reached base. Seven of them scored, and as Brooks came off the mound in the middle of the inning, his outing quickly and mercifully over, he heard an odd sound.
"They were clapping for me," Brooks recalled Saturday of the Toronto fans, "because I gave them so many runs in the first."
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As Brooks exited his second big-league start Saturday night the sound was similar -- but the circumstances could hardly have been more different. Making his first appearance as a member of the A’s, Brooks held the Cleveland Indians to one run while pitching into the eighth inning, and departed to a standing ovation from an O.co Coliseum crowd that included more than a dozen family members.
Brooks then watched from the dugout as the A’s secured his first major-league win, a 5-1 victory over the Indians that snapped Oakland’s three-game losing streak -- and earned Brooks at least another turn in the A’s rotation.
Manager Bob Melvin said the A’s wanted to see Brooks, whom they acquired in the Ben Zobrist trade, pitch in person before opting whether to keep him or send him to Triple-A. After his outing Saturday, Melvin said: "He’s going to stay in the rotation."
"We had our options open, especially with (Felix) Doubront coming here," Melvin said. "We want to take a look at our young guys, some of the guys we traded for, wanted to see how (Brooks) reacted to pitching at the big-league level.
"It’s his first big-league win -- would’ve been pretty tough to send him down after that."
Brooks came with a reputation for being a strike-thrower in the minors -- his career ratio of strikeouts to walks was nearly 5-to-1 -- and he went after the Indians hitters Saturday, using both fastballs and off-speed pitches to get ahead in counts. Catcher Stephen Vogt, who knew little about Brooks before Saturday, said he basically told Brooks in their pre-game game-planning session to "rank your pitches, one through four."
"He told me, ‘I can throw my changeup anytime, any count, anywhere,’" Vogt said. "But the other thing, too, was just kind of talking, ‘We’ve got to use things other than fastballs to get ahead,’ and he knows that. He didn’t ever really hesitate.
"He executed pitches over and over and over again. And I was very impressed with his stuff -- and his demeanor on the mound especially."
Brooks admitted he’d felt some nerves. "I would be lying if I said there was none," he said. "But I tried to keep those to a minimum and just stay focused on the task."
That didn’t mean, though, that he didn’t hear the extremely vocal cheering section of his family members who had traveled up from Southern California to watch his A’s debut. Brooks, who’s from Montclair and went to Cal State San Bernardino, said most of those 17 or so family members hadn’t seen him pitch in years, outside of a Triple-A start last season in Fresno.
"This one was by far better than that," Brooks said. "I think I heard them all game. They were pretty loud the whole time. Just a bunch of screaming."
After Michael Brantley’s two-out single in the first inning, Brooks retired 11 consecutive batters before Lonnie Chisenhall hit a full-count fastball for a home run in the fifth. That was the only Indians runner to past first base with Brooks in the game. With the A’s up 4-1, Melvin sent Brooks back out to start the eighth at 89 pitches, and he allowed a leadoff single to Michael Bourn before retiring Mike Aviles on a flyout for his final batter.
"He gave up a couple hard-hit balls, and Sammy (Fuld) made a nice play, but he deserved to go out there for at least a little bit of (the eighth)," Melvin said.
"That was a terrific game," Melvin said. "Good heater, we saw up to 94 (mph), really good changeup, kind of both ways with sinker-slider. We really were impressed."
Melvin wasn’t alone. As Brooks left the mound in the eighth, many in a crowd of 19,046 stood and applauded, while the A’s TV broadcast cut to a shot of Brooks’ mother, Holly, crying in the stands. Brooks hopped over the third-base line on his way to the dugout and, as he crossed the wide foul ground, pointed to the stands where his family was sitting and pumped his fist.
"They were absolutely going nuts," he said. "I wanted to give them a little something."
Brooks said it was "unreal" to hear Melvin say he’d earned at least one more start. And as for the noise he heard walking off the mound Saturday, this time he knew it was sincere.
"Completely different," Brooks said. "It was phenomenal."
* While the night belonged to Brooks, the A’s played a much better all-around game after being held to three total hits in the first game of this series. Fuld and Butler both had RBI hits with two outs, and Marcus Semien hit his ninth home run of the season in the seventh inning.
The play Melvin referenced by Fuld, on Brooks’ final pitch, was a difficult catch on Mike Aviles’ hard-hit ball going back toward the left-field wall. It was also timely: Melvin had just moved Fuld from center to left field, replacing Mark Canha, for defensive purposes.
"That was a pretty good feel-good game for us," Melvin said.
The past 10 days have not been easy for the A’s, who have lost seven of nine and saw three veteran players dealt before the trade deadline. It’s already been established that Oakland’s front office is looking beyond this season, but for the current clubhouse, it seemed Saturday’s win and Brooks’ performance was a much-needed boost as they turn the page on July.
"We kind of talked about that today," Vogt said. "It’s August 1, trade deadline’s over, now we go. This is a good team in this clubhouse, and that was a great win for us to come out and make a push these last two months. Let’s have some fun."
* Melvin said Fuld was "excited" to lead off Saturday night, with Billy Burns getting a day off, and Fuld responded by getting on base three times and recording his ninth multi-hit game of the season. It’s a good star tot August for Fuld, who batted just .174 in July.
"We saw earlier in the season, if there’s anybody else on our team that can hold down the leadoff spot, it’s Sam," Melvin said. "Not getting as many reps as he normally does here recently, but when we call his number and need him to do something for us he comes up big, and did today both offensively and defensively."
* Drew Pomeranz complicated the eighth inning when he relieved Brooks with a runner on and bobbled Jason Kipnis’ comebacker, giving the Indians two on with one out. But he recovered to strike out both Francisco Lindor and Michael Brantley to preserve what was a three-run lead at that point.
The A’s designating Eric O’Flaherty for assignment Saturday was at least partly due to Pomeranz’s performance as a late-innings left-hander in the bullpen. Left-handed hitters are now batting .147 against him this season, and he has a 2.61 ERA as a reliever.
* Vogt went hitless in four at-bats and is now 0 for his last 25. But he still came up with the quote of the night talking about catching Brooks’ outing:
"There’s nothing like watching somebody have success for the first time in the major leagues," Vogt said. "I don’t care if you’re 30, you’re 21, doesn’t matter. When you’ve having success at the major-league level, and I can be a small part of it -- it was all about him tonight, and it was fun for me to have the best seat in the house."
The A’s can salvage a split of this four-game series Sunday when they send Sonny Gray (11-4, 2.16) to the mound agianst Cleveland right-hander Trevor Bauer (8-8, 4.13). First pitch at 1:05 p.m.