With the bases loaded and one out in the sixth inning Thursday, the A’s opted to pinch hit for catcher John Jaso, who was 2 for 3 with a triple batting in the leadoff spot. The pinch hitter was Derek Norris, another catcher, who will represent the A’s in next week’s All-Star Game.
Norris flew out. But that brought up Stephen Vogt, another catcher, who started at first base Thursday. Vogt lined a single into right-center field off reliever Javier Lopez to score two runs, giving the A’s a 6-0 lead over the Giants and Vogt his fifth multihit game during a 10-game hitting streak.
With their 6-1 win over the Giants at AT&T Park, the A’s took three of four games in the Bay Bridge series and recorded their 58th win before the All-Star break for the first time in franchise history. Depth is a major reason they have the best record in the majors, and perhaps no player personifies that depth more than Vogt.
“The biggest at-bat of the game is probably off Lopez right there,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin. “(Vogt’s) at-bats have been phenomenal. His versatility, we’ve really needed it here with some of the injuries we’ve had. He’s been a star for us.”
Unable to crack the Opening Day roster because of the presence of Norris and Jaso, Vogt played the first two months of the season with the River Cats, hitting .364. He didn’t play his first game in the majors this season until June 1, when he went hitless in four at-bats.
Since then, Vogt has appeared in 30 games and hit safely in 24. In the past 10 games, his average is .457 (16 for 35), and he’s hitting .367 overall since rejoining the A’s. He also has become one of the team’s most versatile defensive players, starting eight games at catcher, 13 in the outfield and four at first base.
That success has spawned something of a movement among A’s fans, who have taken to chanting “I believe in Stephen Vogt” when Vogt comes up to bat. It’s mostly heard at the Coliseum but also was audible from a vocal contingent of A’s fans at AT&T Park on Thursday afternoon.
“That’s really cool, first of all,” Vogt said. “I’m honored and humbled that they do that. It’s pretty crazy.”
Less crazy, Vogt said, is the reason behind his performance with the bat this year. Melvin said before the game it seems Vogt has done a better job this season of reacting to breaking pitches while remaining quick enough to hit fastballs. Vogt also said he is “staying on balls longer” but that the main reason is less technical.
“I feel like myself, to be honest,” Vogt said. “I was really hungry to come back to the big leagues this time, knowing I had some success last year when I came up and just being comfortable up here.
“It doesn’t feel like, man, I’m in the big leagues. It feels like I’m just playing baseball.”
Still, Vogt admitted to being in some awe playing at AT&T Park, where his family had season tickets and he attended 20 to 30 games a year.
“As a kid, this was my dream stadium,” said Vogt, who grew up in Visalia. “I grew up watching Barry Bonds and J.T. Snow hitting in that left-handed batters’ box. To get to do it myself was a pretty special moment for me.”
Vogt went hitless in his first two at-bats Thursday against Giants starter Tim Hudson but gave the A’s a 2-0 lead in the fifth with a single after Jaso had tripled with two outs. The A’s then blew the game open in the sixth with four runs, all charged to Hudson, who gave up a two-run homer to Josh Donaldson and departed with the bases loaded and one out.
Lopez retired Norris on a shallow fly ball to right, but Vogt came through with a two-out, two-run single, his seventh hit in 17 at-bats (.412) this season with a runner in scoring position and two outs.
That was plenty of support for Scott Kazmir, the All-Star left-hander who for the sixth time in 19 starts this season pitched at least six innings without allowing an earned run. Kazmir, whose career high in wins for a season is 13, notched his 11th victory and ends the first half with a 2.38 ERA, 108 strikeouts in 1171/3 innings and an average of 0.98 walks-plus-hits allowed per innings pitched, the third-lowest mark among American League starters.
The Giants managed just three hits and struck out nine times against Kazmir in seven innings. San Francisco matched that hit output in the eighth alone against reliever Dan Otero, with Pablo Sandoval’s RBI single preventing a shutout.