OAKLAND -- The A’s honored their 1974 World Series championship team with an on-field ceremony before playing the Angels on Saturday. They and the sellout crowd at the Coliseum then spent the rest of the night appreciating Yoenis Cespedes.
Cespedes could probably take the game film of the A’s 11-3 win and use it as a personal highlight reel. He threw out two runners at the plate from left field in the second inning. He also barehanded a ball headed for the wall in the same inning to hold Chris Iannetta to a single. He broke a 3-3 tie in the seventh with a two-run triple. For good measure, he hit a three-run homer in the eighth.
Cespedes, who had been 7-for-46 in his previous 11 games, finished a single short of the cycle and tied his career high with five RBIs. He also became the first A’s outfielder with two assists in an inning since Matt Stairs on April 16, 1996.
Start with the defensive plays, which kept the A’s from falling behind early when it felt like the Angels were poised to break out against starter Tommy Milone. Milone allowed six hits in the first two innings and no runs -- thanks to two nearly identical throws from Cespedes to nail runners at home in the second.
On the first, Cespedes threw out Iannetta trying to score on Collin Cowgill’s single. The throw just beat Iannetta to the plate and umpires reviewed the play to see if catcher Derek Norris had violated blocking rules before confirming the out. Two batters later, Grant Green lined a single to left, and the Angels tested Cespedes again by waving around Kole Calhoun, with the same result -- a one-hop strike to end the inning.
"I didn’t think he had a chance at the first one," manager Bob Melvin said. "To get rid of it as quickly as he did I think was the key there. … The second one, it looked like he got to it a little quicker, got it into his hand a little quicker, made the exact same throw."
While one might think the Angels would hesitate before testing Cespedes a second time, Cespedes said he was actually more prepared for the Angels to send Calhoun knowing Calhoun is a faster runner than the catcher Iannetta. He said he couldn’t recall a similar defensive inning in his career. "I don’t do that very often," he said.
Melvin said that when Cespedes returned to the dugout, "Everybody shook his hand." Milone, understatedly, said of the throws: "Definitely a good sight to see, especially when I’m struggling a little bit, giving up a lot of hits. It’s nice to kind of catch a break every once in a while.
"Obviously he had a career night. And I’m lucky that it was today."
The A’s tied the game 3-3 on Josh Donaldson’s bases-loaded groundout in the seventh, bringing Cespedes to the plate with runners on second and third and two outs. Cespedes fell behind side-winding right-hander Joe Smith, 0-2, but fouled off two sinkers at 89 and 90 mph and took another for a ball before lining an outside fastball to right-center for a two-run triple.
"For me, the at-bat off Smith was unbelievable," Melvin said. "That’s not an easy guy for a righty, with two strikes like that, to hit a ball that hard to right-center field."
It keyed a six-run inning for the A’s, who added four more in the eighth, three courtesy of Cespedes’ 10th home run on a 2-0 pitch from right-hander Jarrett Grube, who was making his major-league debut. That made a blowout of a game that, early on, it seemed the A’s had no business even being close in.
It’s no secret Cespedes has a flair for the dramatic, and Melvin said the energy Saturday stemming from the sellout crowd and pre-game festivities may well have sparked the left fielder. "He’d really been struggling … and then when we needed him he steps up," said Melvin. "Everything going on before, fans are out in full force doing their thing, and all of a sudden he becomes a different player."
Said Cespedes, through interpreter Ariel Prieto: "I get a lot of motivation when I see the field like that, the stands full, the same thing it was in the playoffs when it was sold out. … It gave me a lot of motivation to do the best I can for the team."
The A’s have made up for Cespedes’ mini-slump recently with Donaldson and Brandon Moss both hitting well in the middle of the order. Adding a productive Cespedes to that mix could only help, especially if the A’s have to be careful with Moss in the next few days with his strained right calf.
Cespedes said he didn’t want to promise Saturday was the start of an upswing. But taken on its own, the individual performance was impressive enough.
* Milone, on the other hand, won’t be putting his outing Saturday on any highlight reels, even though he recorded a quality start with six innings and three runs allowed. He gave up nine hits and for a while it seemed like even the outs the Angels made were hard-hit.
Milone loaded the bases with no outs in the first, but struck out David Freese, got Howie Kendrick to pop out and coaxed a fielder’s choice out of C.J. Cron to escape. Cespedes’ arm helped him out of the second inning unscathed. Cron and Calhoun both drove balls to the wall in the sixth that were caught. All three runs Milone allowed, in fact, came on one swing -- Cowgill’s homer in the fourth -- and after Erick Aybar followed with a double, Grant Green scorched a line drive right at Donaldson, who doubled up Aybar.
"It was a tough one today," Milone said. "Felt like I was able to throw strikes. I wouldn’t say all of them were quality strikes, but I was keeping the ball somewhat in the good part of the zone. They were just jumping on the first couple pitches.
"Luckily the defense behind me was spectacular today. Without the eight guys behind me I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did."
Cespedes aside, this may well have been one of the A’s best defensive games of the year. As Melvin said, the way things were going early on, "It felt like we should’ve been down 5-0 or 6-0" after the first couple of innings.
"I’ve said often, defensive plays can be momentum shifts as much as a home run or a big hit," Melvin said. "You look up there the first two innings, there’s six hits and no runs, so it was a huge momentum shift for us to still be in that game."
* Held out of the starting lineup, Coco Crisp pinch-hit for Josh Reddick in the seventh after Kyle Blanks had led off the inning with a homer off Tyler Skaggs to make it 3-2.
Crisp gave the A’s a right-handed matchup against the lefty Skaggs and hit a 1-1 pitch for a single that sparked the rest of the inning. Melvin, though, said the switch was made in part because Reddick had hurt his knee hitting it against the wall making a catch earlier in the game.
Melvin said Reddick "a little bit hyper-extended his knee; we’ll see how he is tomorrow." Crisp remained in the game in center field, and Craig Gentry shifted from center to right.
* In other injury news, reliever Ryan Cook (right forearm strain) pitched an inning in a rehab appearance for Single-A Stockton and retired all three batters on nine pitches. The A’s will see how Cook responds to the outing before determining if he needs another rehab game.
* The home run from Blanks, who started at first base against the left-hander Skaggs, was his second in his past three games after Blanks had gone a career-high 49 games without one. It’s possible he’ll be in the lineup again tomorrow despite the A’s facing a righty in Jered Weaver -- Melvin said before the game it’s likely Moss will have Sunday off.
* One more note: Cespedes was asked afterward about his glove, parts of which are neon green. His answer: "It’s Oakland. The uniform is green."
* At 34-22, the A’s are through their best 56-game start since 1991. They’ll try for the sweep Sunday afternoon behind Sonny Gray (5-1, 2.31), while the Angels counter with Weaver (6-2, 2.99) in a good pitching matchup. First pitch at 1:05 p.m.