OAKLAND – Shortly after his manager said before Sunday's game that he has been trying to "fight his way out" of his recent slump by being more aggressive, Yoenis Cespedes swung at the first pitch he saw from Royals starter Luis Mendoza and popped out to the catcher. At that point, it was the latest out for Cespedes in a 4-for-39 stretch.
In his subsequent at-bats in the A's 4-3 win, Cespedes appeared to take each first pitch in a deliberate manner, relaxing his hands before the ball crossed the plate. The A's No. 3 hitter later said that when he played in Cuba, some statistics-minded person told him that when he swung at the first pitch of an at-bat, he had a 90 percent chance of making an out.
It was with that in the back of his mind that Cespedes stepped into the box against Kansas City reliever Kelvin Herrera in the eighth inning, the score tied 3-3, and watched Herrera zip a fastball by him for ball one. The next pitch registered the same reading on the radar gun – 96 mph – and Cespedes crushed it over the wall in left-center field.
The homer provided the decisive run as Ryan Cook stranded Royals on second and third in the ninth inning to seal a series sweep in which the A's won all three games by one run in comeback fashion.
For Cespedes, who also singled off Mendoza in the fourth, it marked his first multihit game since May 4. Even as Cespedes' batting average dipped to .198 entering Sunday, manager Bob Melvin pointed out that Cespedes was having better at-bats recently and making solid contact but hitting balls right at defenders. Melvin felt Cespedes just needed some of those hits to find open space, so he said of the eighth-inning at-bat: "Good timing."
"He has a flair for that, there's no question," Melvin said. "He really didn't even do anything mechanically to try to catch up to (the pitch). Just saw it and hit it."
Cespedes said he has endured slow starts before, in Cuba, and typically hit his way out of them.
"The way that I work, I believe everything's going to be fine," he said through interpreter Ariel Prieto.
Melvin apparently believes the same, having continued to bat Cespedes third during his recent struggles.
"Even when he's not swinging well, we just feel better as a team when he's in the middle of the lineup," Melvin said before Sunday's game, adding that that feeling extends to having Coco Crisp in the leadoff spot.
Crisp, meanwhile, picked up his first hit since coming off the disabled list Wednesday with a first-inning single off Mendoza. Crisp was stranded, though, as Mendoza did not allow a run in the first three innings and the Royals jumped ahead against A's starter A.J. Griffin and carried a 3-2 lead into the seventh.
Oakland's Derek Norris led off that inning with a line-drive single to center that skipped past Royals rookie David Lough to the wall. Norris motored into third and scored two batters later on Crisp's sacrifice fly to make it 3-3.
Asked for his reaction to seeing the ball pass Lough, Norris said: "About as surprised as one human being can be."
The run took an uncharacteristically wild Griffin off the hook after he allowed three runs, including two batters who walked and later scored, in six innings,. Griffin walked three – as many as in his previous three starts combined – but in a theme of this series, he kept the A's close as they chipped away at the Royals' early lead.
Hideki Okajima made his A's debut – and his first major-league appearance since 2011 with the Red Sox – by pitching a scoreless seventh inning. With Sean Doolittle and Grant Balfour off-limits after pitching the past two nights, Melvin turned to Jerry Blevins for the eighth and Cook, who had 14 saves as a rookie last year, for the ninth.
Griffin, though, said he made sure to pay attention with Cespedes leading off the eighth. Even in a slump, Griffin said, the outfielder is "one of those guys, every time he comes up to the plate, you put your things down and watch.
"He loves being up there with the game on the line – that's kind of his thing," Griffin said. "He wants to be the guy."