In explaining the trade-deadline deal Thursday in which he sent slugger Yoenis Cespedes to Boston for ace pitcher Jon Lester – adding to a starting rotation that was already arguably the A’s biggest strength – general manager Billy Beane described baseball as a “zero-sum game. The less runs you give up, the less you have to score.”
The A’s didn’t score any runs in their first 13 innings after the trade, including the first four Saturday with Lester on the mound making his Oakland debut. But an eight-run barrage in the fifth led to an 8-3 A’s win and turned the occasion into a festive one for Lester and the announced 30,097 fans who turned out for their first glimpse at Beane’s biggest deadline acquisition in years.
They greeted the tall left-hander with a loud ovation before his first pitch – a 92-mph fastball for a strike to Royals right fielder Nori Aoki – and another when he left the mound with two outs in the seventh, having allowed three runs on nine hits. Lester strode slowly toward the dugout with his head down, then doffed his cap briefly before heading down the dugout steps.
Manager Bob Melvin joked he was “kind of scared” taking Lester out in the middle of an inning, referencing Lester’s serious demeanor on the mound.
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“If you don’t know him, you think that’s the way he is all the time,” Melvin said. “I’ve seen a couple (of) smiles out of him since I’ve been here. But that’s his preparation, (and) the team feels the intensity when he takes the mound.”
“I’ve never liked that feeling of walking off the mound in the middle of a game,” Lester said afterward. “I’d rather be able to shake the manager’s hand in the dugout. “But to walk off to the ovation was great. It kind of makes you feel welcome.”
Making his first career start for an organization other than the Red Sox, Lester said, was “a little different at first.” He said he started to feel more normal as he warmed up in the bullpen.
On the mound, he worked quickly, taking little time between pitches, which Lester said “allows me to not second-guess what I’m doing.”
“There’s nothing worse than a guy that sits out there, takes his time and is methodical,” said catcher Derek Norris. “Anytime a guy works quick, it puts pressure on the hitter, it keeps the game pace up and works in his favor, too.”
Lester recorded only one 1-2-3 inning (the sixth) and struck out three despite coming in averaging more than a strikeout per inning. But he stranded six of the men who reached base against him, and Salvador Perez’s third-inning sacrifice fly was the only blemish on his line until Aoki and Omar Infante had two-out RBI hits in the seventh.
He did receive one big defensive assist in the fourth. Alex Gordon led off the inning with a popup behind third that Josh Donaldson lost in the sun, allowing Gordon a double, and Lorenzo Cain hit a one-out single, sending Gordon to third. Mike Moustakas then lined a ball to center fielder Sam Fuld, who caught it and launched a throw home – somersaulting forward in the process – to cut down Gordon for an inning-ending double play.
“For him to make that throw was unbelievable,” Lester said, “especially at that point in the game, already allowing one (run).”
Fuld, asked about leaving his feet on the throw, shrugged. “I do that a lot,” he said. “So I guess it’s just kind of second nature now.”
In the bottom of the fifth, Lester enjoyed watching the A’s match their season high for runs in an inning with eight. The A’s had been scoreless over their previous 20 innings, and had sent the minimum 12 batters up against Royals left-hander Jason Vargas in the first four innings Saturday. They sent that many up in the fifth alone, compiling eight hits as six different players drove in runs.
Lester’s fellow newcomer, outfielder Jonny Gomes, was the second batter of the inning and singled. Gomes came up again in the fifth with the bases loaded, two outs and the A’s up 5-1, and hit a single to left field that bounced past Gordon to the wall, clearing the bases as Gomes chugged all the way to third on Gordon’s error.
Gomes, the Petaluma native who played for the A’s in 2012, was met with chants of “Jon-ny! Jon-ny!” as he stood on third. A veteran who has switched teams four times in his career, Gomes said he’s “doing what I can to pave the way for (Lester)” as the pitcher transitions to a new home.
“His routine that he’s had for six years, same trainer, same bullpen, same everything, was thrown for a loop today,” Gomes said. “And he grabbed it and ran with it.”