OAKLAND -- As he saw Jed Lowrie’s chopper bounce into shallow left field, with Josh Reddick sprinting toward him from second base, A’s third-base coach Mike Gallego was juggling several things in his mind.
In a 3-3 game in the bottom of the ninth, Reddick represented the potential winning run Sunday. As a result, the Astros were playing their outfielders shallow. And Reddick had not gotten a great jump off the bat, as he’d needed to wait for Lowrie’s single to pass in front of him before heading for third.
But Gallego also noted that Astros left fielder Alex Presley was having to range to his left to field the ball. And he knew that, due to of the conditions at the O.co Coliseum after the Raiders’ last preseason game, the outfield grass would probably slow the ball down some and give Reddick an extra split second.
"I was just looking for an opportunity to get that winning run across," Gallego said.
So he waved Reddick home.
The decision proved the right one, as Reddick dove in headfirst just ahead of Presley’s throw to give the A’s a 4-3 walk-off win over the Astros and cap a three-run rally in the ninth. On the brink of their eighth loss in nine games, the A’s instead celebrated their ninth walk-off win of the season and first since Aug. 4, a 4-3 victory that, several players said afterward, they hoped might help turn around what has been a frustrating last month.
That wasn’t part of Gallego’s thinking as he sent Reddick in the ninth, but he made the aggressive decision just the same -- despite the fact Reddick had to hold up initially, then slipped a little as he rounded third.
"They were playing shallow, and I was probably going to be holding (Reddick) up if the ball was hit directly at an outfielder," Gallego said. "This one was to Presley’s left, and he had to run to his left and stop and turn and make a perfect throw to home. He ended up making a decent throw, but with Reddick’s speed I felt like it was a pretty well-calculated risk to take at that point."
Reddick later said he "made (scoring on the play) look a lot harder than it was." For one thing, he’d been slow getting out of the batter’s box on his game-tying double the batter before, thinking he’d possibly gotten enough of Chad Qualls’ pitch for a walk-off homer. So instead of being on third for Lowrie’s single, he needed to score from second.
"I knew it wasn’t hit super-hard, tripped around third, made it a lot closer than I really should have," Reddick said. "But it don’t matter how you do it as long as you cross the plate before the ball gets there."
Manager Bob Melvin, meanwhile, said that because Presley had to range laterally for the ball, "I didn’t think he was going to have a chance to get him." Said Lowrie, who saw the play unfold as he rounded first base: "I felt like a jockey or something, just trying to get (Reddick) to go."
Reddick won the push down the home stretch. Fittingly the A’s are trying to do the same. They began Saturday a season-high six games out of first place in the A.L. West and just two games ahead of Seattle for the top wild-card spot, but avoided losing further ground thanks to the ninth-inning heroics.
In the moment, Gallego said, those factors weren’t fueling the whirling of his right arm.
"(But) after the fact, you’re hoping that this is something that sparks these guys out there and gets them on a roll," Gallego said. "The decision at that point, when you’re out there, is trying to get that winning run across.
"There’s times that you have to take a risk and times you’ve got to play smart. Today was a smart risk, I guess you can say, due to the fact that the game was tied. We’re all looking to do our part, and I’m just glad that Mr. Reddick slid under the tag."
* The game story covers all the A’s reaction to the win, and the feeling -- or, at least, the hope -- that it’s the kind of win that can help pull them out of a month-long slide. Even with Saturday’s win, the A’s are 8-17 since Aug. 9, tied for the worst record in the majors during that span, and have gone from first place to feeling like a chance at a third straight division title may be slipping away.
This quote from Saturday’s starter, Scott Kazmir, summed it up pretty well: "I think this was big for us," Kazmir said. "I think we needed a win kind of like this.
"It seemed like the past couple days, it’s something where you could look at everyone in this clubhouse -- we want this real bad, but I think that there were a couple games where the energy level just wasn’t there. And it’s to the point where we’ve just got to dig deep and finish strong. And I feel like a win like this something that can kick-start us, and just give us that little push that we need."
And this from Reddick: "The way we’ve been playing, it’s been ugly. We’ve had very few games where we’ve been fighting back … So a comeback like this, hopefully it’s something that gets us going, sparks a little fire under our tail ends and gets us going. Because that’s what we need right now."
* Kazmir escaped the hook for what would have been a tough-luck loss, allowing three hits in 6 1/3 innings but departing in the seventh with the A’s trailing 2-1. Kazmir left with the bases loaded and one out, and saw the deficit become 3-1 on a sacrifice fly by Robbie Grossman off Dan Otero.
Kazmir rebounded from two awful outings against the Angels, in which he allowed 13 runs in 4 1/3 combined innings to close an August in which he went 2-4 with a 7.80 ERA. Melvin said that Kazmir’s "stuff was a lot better today, the mix of pitches was better." Kazmir said he didn’t feel much different from his two starts against the Angels, but he "was just able to attack the strike zone early, was throwing my cutter a little bit more, which was helping me a lot."
The left-hander, though, also acknowledged that he began to tire in the seventh, when he walked three batters before coming out at 92 pitches. That may warrant some attention, with Kazmir now having thrown 165 2/3 innings this season, more than his season total from last year -- his first back in pro ball after pitching in an independent league in 2012.
"This was probably the first time, getting into the seventh, that I felt like I was losing a little bit of steam," Kazmir said. "It’s something that I’ve dealt with before and I was able to just dig deep and make the pitch, (but) I just wasn’t able to do it today. It was a couple pitches that could’ve gotten me out of certain situations if I’d made that pitch, and it just didn’t happen."
How the A’s handle Kazmir’s workload down the stretch, especially now that they’re in a fight just to make the playoffs, is something to monitor.
* It only took six pitches for Qualls, the Astros’ closer, to blow the save and take the loss Saturday. He faced two batters, Reddick and Lowrie, and allowed hits to both. Qualls has now faced the A’s six times this season. In those six games, he has four blown saves, 16 hits allowed and an ERA of 27.00.
"You get that sense of urgency when he comes in the game, you feel like you’re going to do something special again," Reddick said. "He’s got to be thinking about it as well. He’s struggled against us, so that’s something on his mind."
Whether or not that’s the case, the A’s had to be at least glad to knock Scott Feldman out of the game, after the Astros right-hander had held them to one run on five hits over the first eight innings.
"We’ve also had some games where (Qualls) shut us down quickly, too," Melvin said. "But I think just having some experience and knowing what he’s going to try to do adds to maybe some confidence."
* For Lowrie, it was his first walk-off hit in an A’s uniform -- meaning his first time on the receiving end of the celebratory whipped cream pie in the face. Reddick delivered the pie -- two of them, actually -- and Derek Norris and Nate Freiman followed by dumping a cooler of Gatorade on Lowrie’s head.
"I feel like if you don’t experience that, you’ve never really had the A’s experience," said Lowrie. "So yeah, it was great. That’s something you welcome -- not in many situations, but in that one, for sure."
* The A’s now have a chance at a series win Sunday before heading out on a seven-game road trip. They’ll send right-hander Jason Hammel (2-5, 4.98) to the mound, opposed by Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel (10-9, 3.03). First pitch at 1:05 p.m.