Before his team completed a four-game sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays behind a strong debut from its new pitching acquisition, A’s manager Bob Melvin was asked what it’s like to have the baseball world eyeing Oakland and an organization that has often operated in relative obscurity to teams farther east and south.
“We don’t get too worked up about that,” Melvin said. “It’s nice to have that potential spotlight, hopefully, today a little. But I don’t think it affects the way we do things or the way we play.”
Not 48 hours after the A’s made waves by landing starter Jeff Samardzija in a trade with the Chicago Cubs, the tall, hard-throwing right-hander held the Blue Jays to one run over seven innings in a 4-2 A’s win Sunday.
The A’s improved their majors-best record to 55-33. And after the final out, it was announced they will have six representatives at this year’s All-Star Game, their largest contingent since they had seven in 1975.
That number does not include Samardzija, who was named to the National League All-Star team after posting a 2.83 ERA in 17 starts in Chicago before the trade. So are others around baseball indeed paying attention to what’s going on in Oakland?
“They’d better,” Samardzija said. “Or else they’re not very smart.”
After being swept in a three-game series by the American League Central-leading Detroit Tigers, the A’s responded by holding the Blue Jays – who entered the series atop the A.L. East and lead the majors in home runs – to four runs in 39 innings.
Samardzija allowed his lone run on a groundout by Melky Cabrera in the sixth inning. He gave up four hits and struck out five.
Wearing No. 29, as he did in Chicago, Samardzija displayed the powerful repertoire that made him a coveted trade piece on the last-place Cubs, with whom he was 2-7. He consistently threw his fastball in the mid-90s with a sharp slider and diving splitter, and reached 97 mph on his final pitch of the sixth, getting Jose Bautista to ground out as the potential tying run.
Samardzija returned for the seventh inning and struck out the side, retiring Juan Francisco looking on a breaking ball on his 108th and final pitch, then strutting off the mound to a loud ovation from the announced crowd of 22,897 at O.co Coliseum.
“He fits in very well here,” Melvin said. “The performance was terrific. He has a lot of fun in the clubhouse, and is serious when he’s on the field.”
Several times Melvin noted Samardzija had nearly beaten him to the stadium Sunday morning – a rarity for pitchers on their start days. Samardzija said he was “just excited” for his A’s debut, but that he’s also still getting used to being in the A.L., where he no longer has to take batting practice. He said he arrived Sunday about 8:15 a.m., nearly five hours before game time.
His excitement carried over into the first inning, with some effect. Samardzija allowed consecutive one-out singles to Munenori Kawasaki and Cabrera, giving Toronto men on first and third. But Bautista bounced into a double play, and Samardzija did not allow another hit until the sixth.
“When I see my fastball start leaking back over the plate, I know I’m excited, because I’m not being patient with my mechanics,” Samardzija said. “The double play was probably one of the biggest pitches of the game for me and allowed me to relax.”
The A’s further relaxed Samardzija by scoring three runs for him – only the seventh time in 18 starts this season he has received more than two runs of support. Samardzija said he also formed a quick rapport with catchers John Jaso and Derek Norris, who replaced Jaso in the sixth, shaking off his catcher only once – on his final pitch.
“Norris, for an example on why I like these guys, he wanted to throw the heater by him, which I usually never have a problem with,” Samardzija said with a smile. “I shook and threw a split, we got the strikeout, but that was it. And you know you’re on the same page with your catcher when you’re only shaking on out pitches.”
A first-time All-Star, Samardzija will attend the game July 15 in Minneapolis but will not be eligible to pitch because of the trade. He called it a “bummer, but that’s all right. I’ll just go through whatever ceremonies they have, jump over to the A.L. dugout with an N.L. jersey on and have some fun with the six other dudes we have out there.”
Josh Donaldson was named the A.L. starting third baseman, while pitchers Sean Doolittle and Scott Kazmir, outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, outfielder-first baseman Brandon Moss and Norris were selected as reserves. The A’s hadn’t sent a position player to the game since 2003 (catcher Ramon Hernandez), the year they last had more than two All-Star selections.
Donaldson is the first A’s player elected in fan voting since Jason Giambi in 2000 and the lone first-time All Star starting for the A.L. It is the first selection for all of the A’s except Kazmir, who represented Tampa Bay in 2006 and 2008.
“This is great just to be represented by so many guys on this team,” Donaldson said. “I feel like it’s very deserving, so a pretty special moment for every one of us.
“I’ve been saying this for years, that we’ve had guys on this team that are very talented and that eventually you’re going to see that hard work that we’ve put in pay off. And I think you’ve seen that by our record over the past few years.”