By the time Sean Doolittle – yes, the closer – grounded out to end the A’s 7-6, 10-inning loss to the Red Sox on Sunday, Oakland had infielder Nick Punto playing right field, Stephen Vogt playing his third position of the game, nobody left on the bench and a key contributor bound for a hospital for tests following a blow to the head.
The A’s bade farewell to a five-game winning streak and a chance at their first four-game sweep of Boston since 1971, but not without a fight. Trailing 6-1 and down to their final four outs, the A’s scored three runs in the eighth and then two in the ninth on home runs by Vogt and pinch hitter John Jaso off Red Sox closer Koji Uehara to force extra innings.
Uehara also allowed Coco Crisp’s game-winning single Saturday but had come into that game with runners on base. Entering Sunday, Uehara had been charged with three runs all season for an ERA of 0.83. That rose when Vogt lined a 1-2 pitch just over the wall in right with one out to make it 6-5.
After Punto popped out, manager Bob Melvin sent up Jaso, who hit the first pitch he saw from Uehara for his second pinch-hit homer of the season. It had been nearly four years since Uehara allowed two homers in a game, and he had converted 31 regular-season save opportunities in a row.
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Jaso said he was actually looking for an off-speed pitch to open the at-bat, not a fastball like the one he received.
“As a catcher, I know pinch hitters coming in get real jumpy, so you start them off slow, and they’ll go chasing after stuff,” he said. “(But) I think he just kind of yanked a fastball into my red zone … (and I) just kind of reacted to it.”
Jed Lowrie, though, grounded out to end the inning, and reliever Fernando Abad gave up a tiebreaking home run to David Ortiz on a 1-2 breaking ball to begin the 10th. The inning got worse for the A’s when Jonathan Herrera’s backswing caught catcher Derek Norris in the side of the head, sending Norris to the ground and eventually out of the game.
Melvin said Norris had “no signs of concussion” but was headed to a hospital for a CAT scan. Vogt, who already had played right field and first base – the latter for the first time in his major-league career – moved to catcher, and Josh Donaldson, who began the game as the designated hitter, entered to play defense, costing the A’s their DH spot.
As a result, the A’s had the pitcher’s spot due up third in the bottom of the 10th. So after Yoenis Cespedes popped out and Donaldson struck out, Melvin sent up Doolittle – a top prospect as a first baseman for the A’s until injuries forced him to switch career paths – to hit against Uehara.
Doolittle, who hadn’t had a professional at-bat since 2009, was in the bullpen when coach Darren Bush told him he’d be hitting. Doolittle said he took 10 to 15 swings in the batting cage with hitting coach Chili Davis, “making sure I was loose and wasn’t going to tweak anything if I did swing,” and then, “ran downstairs to be on deck on time.”
“It was very nerve-racking,” Doolittle said.
After falling behind 0-2, Doolittle took a splitter low and away for ball one before hitting a routine grounder to second baseman Dustin Pedroia.
“A lot of the guys were impressed that I didn’t strike out,” Doolittle said, “which was one of the goals. … But it was really hard. And facing a guy like that gives you a different appreciation for it, that’s for sure.”
The A’s finished their 10-game homestand against the Yankees, Rangers and Red Sox at 7-3 before flying to New York today for two games against the Mets. The hope is they’ll be accompanied by Norris, who said he felt “fine” after the game and “never really got dizzy or anything” after the blow to the head.
Norris, though, has been clipped by several backswings this season. While he called that “one of the hazards of the job,” he said the latest may spur him to adjust where he sets up when receiving pitches.
“A tick here and there off the mask or glove is one thing, but this one got me in a pretty good part of the head and not really the helmet or the mask,” Norris said. “So for my own health, I think I’ll just have to take a step back.”