OAKLAND -- The A’s home stadium has produced sewage problems and a rainout on a night when it didn’t rain in the past year, but this was a new one. In the fourth inning of the A’s 5-1 win over the Yankees on Saturday night, the game was put on hold for nearly 40 minutes due to there not being enough light.
Officially, the A’s said a circuit breaker outage caused a large bank of lights in one of the towers above Mount Davis in left-center field to go out. The lights actually were out from the beginning of the game. But as the Yankees took the field for the bottom of the fourth, with the sun going down, umpires began to discuss the situation with both managers, and ultimately called the Yankees back off the field into their dugout.
Thus began the delay, which officially started at 8:19 p.m. and ended 38 minutes later, after the breaker had been manually reset. A’s manager Bob Melvin, who remained on the field talking with the umpiring crew for much of the delay, said the umpires’ opting to suspend the game was "more than anything about safety."
That meant there was probably a chance that had the lights not come on, the game would not have started again. "Luckily it did," Melvin said. During the delay, some A’s players returned to the clubhouse and hit in the cage while others stayed in the dugout. Both starting pitchers -- Scott Kazmir and Hiroki Kuroda -- threw during the delay and came back out to pitch after the lights returned.
Shortstop Andy Parrino said many of the A’s hadn’t noticed the lights not working early on. "We were sort of wondering why -- some guys were asking if they were fixing it the whole time, or if they just started fixing with when it started to go dark," he said.
Said second baseman Eric Sogard: "That’s the Coliseum for you. That’s kind of what we expect out of it. It’s why we love this place. You never know what you’re going to get."
Following the delay, Kuroda got through the fourth inning, but his outing ended an inning later with the A’s scoring a pair of unorthodox runs to go ahead 4-1 and knock the right-hander out in the fifth. Kazmir completed six innings, allowing only an unearned run, to lower his season ERA to 2.05.
Ultimately, the outage didn’t factor much into a game in which the A’s evened this three-game series with the Yankees. Officially, it didn’t even factor into the time of game -- it will go down as a 2-hour, 45-minute affair, with a 38-minute break in the middle.
"Maybe some carryover from Friday the 13th the night before," Melvin mused. "I don’t know. It did seem a little crazy."
* Of greatest concern to Melvin was how the delay would affect Kazmir. At first Kazmir said he returned to the clubhouse and used heat packs to keep his arm warm. As the break reached the half-hour mark, the A’s decided to have Kazmir throw a simulated inning in the bullpen, of about 15 pitches.
"It ended up being perfect," Kazmir said. "As soon as I was done with my last pitches in that simulated inning, the lights came on and we started the (bottom) half of the inning. It worked out perfect. I felt fine."
Kazmir pointed out he has sat through some long half-innings this season with the A’s scoring runs for him, "So I’ve had a little practice." Still, Melvin said there was cause for worry as the delay dragged on.
"Mentally you’ve got to stay with it, and it’s tough when you’re sitting around that long and it’s cold and you have to go back out and find that adrenaline again," Melvin said. Kazmir did allow a double to the first batter he faced after the layoff, but he retired the next six hitters to complete the sixth. "It was very impressive," Melvin said.
One effect of needing the simulated inning was that it cut Kazmir’s start a little short. He threw 98 pitches in the game, and Melvin said the extra 15 or so in the simulated inning necessitated Kazmir departing after the sixth. Still, Kazmir recorded his 10th start already this season allowing two or fewer earned runs and now owns the second-lowest ERA in the American League, behind only the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka.
Kazmir has a 1.44 ERA in his last seven starts. For the season, he’s 8-2 and the A’s are 12-2 in games when he takes the mound. Kazmir was asked after the game if this is the best he has felt during a stretch in his career, which included some remarkable seasons early in Tampa Bay, and he gave a surprisingly assertive answer.
"Yeah, overall, for sure," he said. "Stuff-wise, consistency, yeah I would say this is the best I’ve felt."
* Sogard, about whose offensive struggles Melvin had been asked before the series began Friday, made several key plays in the win. He drove in the A’s first two runs with a two-out, bases-loaded single in the second inning, and also drew a leadoff walk to start the A’s fifth-inning rally, in which they scored two runs on a walk, a single, two passed balls and a groundout.
"Teammates got me in that position and I was able to come through there," Sogard said of his second-inning hit. "They’ve been picking me up all year, so it was nice to kind of pitch in and do my part."
Sogard had entered the game batting .197 and with one RBI in his previous 27 games, a span of 77 at-bats. He said Saturday he has been working with hitting coach Chili Davis on his "bat path" -- staying on top of the ball so as not to pop it up -- and hit a sharp line drive to center field off Kuroda for the two-run single.
Sogard also said earlier Kuroda is a pitcher he has seen fairly well in their prior meetings, despite a 1-for-5 career line against the right-hander. For that reason, when he came up in the second for his first at-bat, he didn’t feel he needed to see a strike from Kuroda before swinging. The pitch he hit came in a 1-0 count.
"That was big for our guys," Kazmir said. "I feel like that takes a little bit of pressure off. It’s big when you get production out of the bottom of the lineup, especially when other guys are scuffling a little bit."
While Sogard has struggled with the bat, his defense has kept him a regular in the lineup against right-handed pitchers. He also made a big defensive play in the fifth to preserve what was then a 2-1 lead, fielding Derek Jeter’s chopper and throwing home to cut down Kelly Johnson trying to score.
Parrino, getting his first start at shortstop after being called up Friday to replace Alberto Callaspo (paternity leave), also drove in a run from the eighth spot in the order with an RBI double in the sixth. Getting those contributions from the bottom of the order, Melvin said, was "key" with several of the A’s top hitters slumping.
"The way our roster’s set up is to where we can get contributions across the board," said Melvin. "You don’t want to always have to count on two, three guys in the middle of the lineup. So that was key."
* Parrino had a hand in the Yankees scoring their lone run, making a throwing error on a Derek Jeter grounder in the hole with two outs in the third that allowed Kelly Johnson to score from third.
After Kazmir walked Jacoby Ellsbury to load the bases, though, Parrino ended the inning on a nearly identical grounder off the bat of Alfonso Soriano, backhanding it in the hole and throwing to third baseman Josh Donaldson for the force-out.
"You always want to be able to sort of pick up, especially if it’s your mistake, pick up the pitcher," Parrino said. "Kaz was unbelievable tonight. Fortunately he got a ground ball there -- and that time I decided to throw it to third base."
Melvin said he’s sure Parrino was glad for the chance to atone for the error, both in the field and with his RBI double. "Especially for a guy who’s a plus defender, if you let one in, you feel like you have to get it back, and he did," Melvin said.
* No A’s hitter is in a bigger funk than Josh Donaldson, and he’s clearly frustrated. With an 0-for-4 night, Donaldson is now hitless in his last 31 at-bats, a career-long stretch, and he was ejected after the bottom of the seventh inning Saturday night for arguing with home plate umpire Hal Gibson.
Donaldson had popped out to the catcher in the seventh, but hadn’t liked a called third strike by Gibson during his at-bat in the fifth. Melvin indicated it might be approaching the time to get Donaldson, whose average has dropped to .250, a day off -- something the A’s tried to do last week in Anaheim but couldn’t when Callaspo got sick.
"He’s a tough kid, he’ll grind through it," Melvin said. "Even when he’s not hitting, he’s playing good defense, like you saw again tonight. But it’s difficult. When you’re that good and you go through a prolonged slump that gets to the point where it is right now, it’s pretty hard on you."
The start of Donaldson’s slide coincided with his highly publicized run-in with Orioles third baseman Manny Machado last weekend in Baltimore. Melvin was asked whether that might be playing into Donaldson’s slump and said: "No, I don’t think so. I mean, those things, even if it does both you for a game or two, we’re way past that now."
Donaldson isn’t the only A’s hitter struggling. John Jaso’s hitless streak has reached 21 at-bats. Jed Lowrie struck out in his first three at-bats Saturday and is 4 for his last 37. Lowrie also scorched a line drive to left field in his last at-bat, but it hung up for Brett Gardner to make a charging catch. So it goes right now for Lowrie and others.
* An efficient night from the A’s bullpen. Dan Otero retired six hitters on 17 pitches, and Sean Doolittle came on for the ninth in a non-save situation and retired the side in order. As mentioned before, the actual game time tonight was fairly quick -- 2:45. The longest two-hour, 45-minute game you’re likely to see.
It’s Jesse Chavez (5-4, 3.04) for the A’s and left-hander Vidal Nuno (1-2, 4.97) for the Yankees in the rubber match Sunday. First pitch at 1:05 p.m. Derek Jeter tribute shortly before that.