Sam Fuld stumbled into Wednesday night with seven hits in his previous 76 at-bats. He had scored one run all of May and played a total of 11 innings in the A’s first seven games in June. So after igniting the A’s ninth-inning rally Wednesday against the Texas Rangers with a single and scoring the winning run in a 5-4 walk-off win, Fuld wore a grin that conveyed both happiness and relief.
"I mean, I know I’ll sleep better tonight," Fuld said.
The last month has been trying for Fuld, who was a regular in the A’s lineup in April but has seen his playing time diminish since Ben Zobrist returned from knee surgery. Getting a start Wednesday in left field, Fuld went hitless in his first three at-bats to extend his funk to 7-for-79, before he came up with one out in a 4-4 game in the ninth.
Facing hard-throwing right-hander Keone Kela, Fuld tried to bunt his way on and fouled his attempt. He ran the count to 1-2 before fighting a 95 mph fastball into left field for a ground-ball single, putting a runner on for the top of the A’s order. Fuld acknowledged later the at-bat -- like many recently -- was a battle.
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"I’ll be honest, I felt uncomfortable at moments," Fuld said. "Obviously I’ve been feeling pretty uncomfortable for a long period now … There was a couple swings today I showed (that), but just made an adjustment and put the barrel on the ball."
What Fuld did next was perhaps more impressive. In a 1-0 count to Billy Burns, Kela made two pickoff throws to first base. With the count at 2-2, Fuld tried to steal second base on successive pitches, only to have Burns foul both of them off. Kela then threw over three more times, Fuld diving back safely each time. Finally, on a 2-2 pitch, Fuld took off for second and slid in ahead of Robinson Chirinos’ on-the-money throw.
Fuld said he felt like he was getting good jumps off of Kela, and that when Kela did pick over to first, "I felt like I was getting back pretty easily. He had quick feet, but I still felt confident getting back, and that allowed me to lean a little more (toward second). Those little things, just tiny things like that as a base-stealer, go a long way."
By stealing second Fuld was able to advance to third when Burns tapped an infield single. The Rangers then brought their infield in, and Josh Reddick hit a first-pitch ground ball to the left of second baseman Adam Rosales. Rosales had to leave his feet to stop it, and his throw home was too late to get Fuld sliding home with the winning run.
"It’s really tricky with the infield in there," Fuld said, "but once I saw Rosie dive, I felt like I had a really good chance to score. If I didn’t see him leave his feet, I don’t know what I do there."
"I knew Sam was going regardless," Reddick said. "We’ve been struggling, so we’ve got to force the issue … I didn’t hit it hard enough to make it through (the infield) but as soon as (Rosales) went down I knew Sam would score on that."
Fuld’s run snapped a four-game losing streak for the A’s and secured their first walk-off win of the season.
"Long overdue for a walk-off," he said, grinning. "Those are the best kinds of wins. You talk about hoping to get momentum, hopefully this is the time where it turns around a little bit."
Fuld was talking about the A’s, but could have referring to himself. Manager Bob Melvin said Wednesday’s game was the kind where the impact of a player like Fuld can often be felt the most: close, so that the difference is "defense, base-running, putting a ball in play, things Sammy is used to doing and has been very good at doing."
"Sam’s kind of not having the year I think we all know that he wants," Reddick said. "For him to pick us up there tonight was something, hopefully, that can get him going, and something we definitely needed at the time."
* After driving in the game-winning run, Reddick was treated to the traditional pie in the face (from catcher Stephen Vogt) and a surprise Gatorade shower (from Billy Butler and Drew Pomeranz). Afterward, several A’s remarked at their surprise about it being their first walk-off celebration of the season.
"We used to specialize in those here," Melvin said.
"It feels like at this time usually we had like eight the last two or three years," Reddick said. "But it’s been a long time coming. We’ve lost a lot of one-run ballgames, and for us to actually be on the winning side of it is something to feel good about."
The A’s had been 0-10 in games decided in the last at-bat. They’re now 4-16 in one-run games. They certainly didn’t look out of practice charging out of the dugout to surround Reddick on the infield, but there may have been a little rust: Reddick said he found Vogt a little slow delivering the celebratory pie.
"I was looking for it the whole time," said Reddick, who was doing a TV interview when Vogt got him. "The fans and the cameras kind of give it away, but I don’t want to turn around and be that guy that tries to avoid it.
"The shower was more surprising than the pie. I haven’t seen the shower in a long time."
* The A’s put themselves in position for the walk-off by rallying from a 4-1 deficit in the fourth. They scored once in the bottom of the fourth and tied the game in the eighth, with Butler, another struggling A’s hitter, driving in the tying run with a one-out single.
Butler fell behind Tanner Scheppers 1-2 before bouncing a curveball through the left side to score Ben Zobrist from third. Before that Butler had been 5-for-32 this month and 0-for-3 on the night with two strikeouts, though he’d lined out sharply to center field in his first at-bat.
Melvin said before the game Butler has been the victim of tough luck, and Butler argued the same afterward, citing that first-inning out as an example.
"You don’t really try to figure this game out, because you never will," Butler said. "I’ve been putting solid contact on it and getting some tough luck for a while now. Figure you just got to keep grinding and you’ll bust out of it.
"I think the best ball I hit was my first at-bat. I put the barrel on the last one, just hit it right into the ground and found a hole. But you want to go on the one I hit the best, the first one, squared it up just like I wanted to, but it’s an out. That’s this game."
Melvin said he hopes the game can help spur Butler, whom the A’s need producing in the middle of the order. For the second straight game Wednesday, Melvin had Reddick in the No. 2 lineup spot and Vogt batting fourth, with Butler fifth. He indicated he would prefer to have Reddick third and Vogt fifth, but needs Butler hitting in the cleanup spot to break up the left-handers.
"You find a hole and get a hit for a guy that’s hitting a lot of line drives," Melvin said. "A lot of times it’s a hit like that that can get you going, loosen you up a little bit."
* Melvin said that "probably the key to the game" was the performance of his bullpen. Four A’s relievers combined to throw 5 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing just one hit, after starter Jesse Hahn couldn’t get out of the fourth.
Pat Venditte struck out Joey Gallo to end the fourth, stranding two runners, and pitched two more innings. Fernando Abad -- in his first appearance in 11 games -- Evan Scribner and Tyler Clippard each threw a scoreless inning.
Hahn appeared to be battling control problems all night. He threw 38 strikes and 30 balls, and he hit three batters, tying the Oakland single-game record. Before the game, Melvin talked about Hahn’s improvement against left-handed batters. Rangers left-handers then drove in three of the four runs against Hahn (the fourth scored on when Hahn hit Leonys Martin with the bases loaded), and all three of the batters Hahn hit were left-handed.
"Jesse was just a little bit off," Melvin said. "You could see the ball-strike ratio the whole game, he was throwing more balls than strikes. And we were trying to get him through a couple innings there so we don’t have to go through, at one point, maybe seven innings of bullpen."
Venditte started warming up in the third, when the Rangers sent nine hitters to the plate. Fans at the Coliseum did get to see Venditte pitch from both sides for the first time when he struck out Gallo left-handed to end the fourth, then struck out Elvis Andrus pitching right-handed to start the fifth.
* The A’s committed their majors-leading 58th error when Marcus Semien mishandled a ground ball in the first (Semien’s 20th error). But they also benefited from some miscues by the Rangers. A passed ball in the fourth allowed Stephen Vogt to take third base and then score on a Brett Lawrie groundout. And Reddick made it a 4-3 game by scoring on a throwing error by Texas third baseman Joey Gallo.
* The A’s quick homestand wraps up with the series finale Thursday. It’s Scott Kazmir (2-4, 3.14) against Rangers right-hander Chi Chi Gonzalez (2-0, 0.00). First pitch at 12:35 p.m.