The A’s landed in the Bay Area around 2:30 a.m. Tuesday after a night game in Baltimore that capped an 0-7 road trip. Tasked with facing Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw on Tuesday night, they drove the left-hander out after seven innings and 116 pitches with the score tied at 1-1 -- only to see the Dodgers take a 4-1 lead in the eighth against their much-maligned bullpen.
The A.L.-worst A’s could have folded. Instead, they rallied.
The A’s came back with three runs against the Dodgers’ bullpen in their half of the eighth and, two innings later, walked off with a 5-4 win when a slumping Billy Butler singled to right field to score Mark Canha, the night’s unlikely offensive hero.
It was an abrupt turn for an A’s team that had lost seven straight, on a road trip manager Bob Melvin had termed "embarrassing." A sellout crowd turned out to watch Tuesday’s interleague matchup against the Dodgers, but the A’s contingent went quiet in the eighth when A.J. Ellis hit a two-out, three run homer off of Fernando Rodriguez that broke open what had been a taut pitcher’s duel.
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"Whenever something like that happens, it’s brutal," Canha said later. "It feels like a punch to the gut. But you have no choice but to go up there and battle. And that’s what we did, and that’s really good to see given the circumstances."
With Kershaw out and reliever Pedro Baez in for the eighth, Danny Valencia singled, Josh Phegley doubled and Canha drove them both in with a double to the right-center field gap. Canha later scored on Marcus Semien’s soft single off of J.P. Howell, tying the game 4-4.
It stayed that way until the 10th when Canha, who had a career-high four hits in the game, led off with a double against Yimi Garcia. Butler, who entered Tuesday batting .169 over his previous 24 games and was hitless on the night, lined the first pitch from Garcia to right field. Scott Van Slyke’s right foot slipped as he threw home, the ball sailed high, and the A’s sprint out of the dugout as Canha crossed home conveyed a sense of relief.
"A lot of the issues we’ve been having, whether it’s one-run games, extra-inning games, certainly we’ve had a losing streak -- there are a lot of added tensions going on when that game was looking the way it did for a little while," Melvin said. "But to have that spirited a comeback, and get big hit after big hit, was awfully fulfilling."
Melvin said he was pleased with the approach he saw from Butler on Tuesday night. In his at-bat before the game-winning hit, following Canha’s two-run double in the eighth, Butler moved Canha over to third with a ground ball to the right side. Butler said he was trying to do pretty much the same thing in the 10th, "got a pitch out over the plate and got the job done."
"He needed something like that," Melvin said of Butler’s walk-off hit. "That’s the type of approach he’s going to need, keep the ball in the air, off the ground. He has the ability to hit the ball the other way. So in that situation he’s trying to get him over, but obviously trying to get him over with a hit, and it was a great swing he took."
Canha, meanwhile, figured into all three of the A’s scoring rallies. He singled leading off the second against Kershaw and scored on a Semien groundout. He also singled against Kershaw in the sixth, and Melvin joked after the game that collecting two hits against the best left-hander in baseball is probably what Canha should lead with when he remembers this game down the road.
Canha, the rookie first baseman, was supposed to be one of the A’s specialists against left-handed pitching this season. But he entered Tuesday batting just .156 against left-handers on the year, and .238 overall. He acknowledged his four-hit game was "one of my better games this year," but said he’ll remember it more for the comeback than his hits against the reigning N.L. Cy Young winner.
"It’s definitely the most memorable game we’ve played, for me," Canha said. "It’s just been kind of an emotional roller-coaster ride this year. So to get a win like that, big crowd and everything, it was really cool."
That Canha was still in the game in the later innings was in part because the A’s were playing with a short bench. Melvin said Coco Crisp, Brett Lawrie and Ike Davis were all unavailable due to various ailments, leaving Stephen Vogt as the only hitter on the bench. As a result, Melvin left his right-handed hitters in when the Dodgers began turning to right-handed relievers after Kershaw’s exit.
"The righties knew they were going to be in there against righties," Melvin said. "And they had some real good at-bats."
Because of the travel turnaround Tuesday, the A’s reported to the field later and canceled on-field batting practice. After the game, with the adrenaline still running, Melvin said he didn’t feel tired but that the travel usually catches up on the second day. Knowing the A’s would be back at the Coliseum in hours for Wednesday’s day game, Melvin said doing so with a win in recent memory makes it "a little easier to handle."
"It was stacked against us for today," Butler said. "But that’s why you show up and you play the game."
* Melvin described Felix Doubront’s outing as "effectively wild." The left-hander, who made his first start for the A’s, allowed just one hit in six innings. He also walked six -- but he struck out eight and gave up only one unearned run while throwing 104 pitches.
"To be that effective and not have too many hard-hit balls, and knowing you have to go out there and be pretty efficient and not give up any runs with Kershaw on the mound -- great start," Melvin said.
Doubront had an interesting theory for his wildness. He said because he has been pitching out of the bullpen lately, he was unused to throwing from the windup -- where he issued four of his walks -- and that when he got into the stretch, "I was more focused."
"No matter if you walk a guy, or are behind in the count a lot of times, you just have to make another pitch, a good one, or strike everybody out," Doubront said. "That’s what I did."
Melvin said it was too soon to say if Doubront would make another start, but that he did pitch well enough Tuesday to remain in consideration.
* Melvin had said before the game he hoped Crisp and Lawrie would be options off the bench Tuesday after getting pre-game treatment, but it sounded like they were off limits. Asked about their availability for Wednesday, Melvin said: "We’ll see tomorrow. Ike (Davis), too. Ike was a little banged up as well."
* This game was a good illustration of why the A’s have the highest bullpen ERA (4.54) in the American League and the Dodgers have the third-highest in the N.L. (4.18). There were a few good outings -- Evan Scribner had 1 1/3 scoreless innings for the A’s, while Fernando Abad pitched around a one-out single by Carl Crawford to keep the game tied in the 10th -- and ironically, one of them belonged to Jim Johnson.
Johnson, you may remember, flamed out as a member of the A’s bullpen last season and entered Tuesday with a 9.27 career ERA at the Coliseum. Fans here remembered, and let Johnson -- who had a 20.25 ERA in six outings since joining the Dodgers’ bullpen -- know it with a loud round of boos as he came into the game Tuesday night.
The Dodgers asked Johnson to preserve a 4-4 tie with runners on second and third and two outs in the eighth. And Johnson delivered, striking out Billy Burns to send the game into the ninth tied. He showed no emotion, walking with his head down back to the Los Angeles dugout.
* Ellis, the Dodgers’ catcher, had quite a game. Along with his eighth-inning home run, he drew four walks and probably helped keep Kershaw from an early exit in the fourth.
Kershaw had a couple of weird outbursts, including when he tried to field a slow chopper by Danny Valencia in the third, dropped it, threw the ball into the ground, then hurled it toward the Dodgers’ dugout. In the fourth, he appeared to take exception to Canha taking a long time getting into the box between pitches, and gestured toward home plate.
Umpire Todd Tichenor popped out from behind the plate and snapped back at Kershaw, but Ellis quickly got in the way and diverted Tichenor’s attention. Ellis came in batting just .210 with seven RBIs this season, but he had Kershaw’s back Tuesday night in more ways than one.
* As mentioned, it’s another quick turnaround to Wednesday’s game in this short series. A’s right-hander Jesse Chavez (6-12, 3.84) will oppose Dodgers left-hander Alex Wood (1-1, 5.09), after Los Angeles scratched Mat Latos and moved him to the bullpen. First pitch at 12:35 p.m.