By Matthew Harrington
OAKLAND, Calif. — The Oakland Athletics made it five straight wins Monday night at O.Co Coliseum, but they didn’t make it easy on themselves against the Chicago White Sox. Despite a dominant performance from starter Jesse Chavez, the green and gold needed four different pitchers to get through a three-run ninth inning to hang on for a 5-4 win. Jed Lowrie and Josh Donaldson connected on two-run hits each and Sean Doolittle collected his second save in three opportunities to anoint Chavez the winning pitcher.
Jesse Chavez (3-1, 2.44 ERA) turned in a masterpiece, pitching 8-plus strong innings highlighted by seven strikeouts and only two walks. The lone mistakes were solo home runs issued to Dayan Viciedo & Jose Abreu, Chavez’s fourth and fifth home runs allowed on the year. All five long balls on the campaign have come with the bases empty for the righthander, a runner-up for the American League Pitcher of the Month in April.
“He’s been doing it all year for us,” said manager Bob Melvin. “I tried to get him all the way through it. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. Seeing eight strong innings again, he’s consistent in that regard.”
The journeyman reliever-turned-starter has found new life in Oakland after stops in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Kansas and Toronto. Monday night proved a reason why, with the Southern California native pitching an effective game, using 93 pitches to retire 24 batters. 68 of Chavez’s deliveries were strikes.
“It’s amazing,” said fellow pitcher Sean Doolittle. “It’s amazing the way he can pitch to both sides of the plate with both a cutter and a sinker and obviously that big curveball he had tonight. He really pitches. The way he adds and subtracts, moves the ball around. It’s really fun to watch. That’s the guy that over the last few years has really reinvented himself.”
Dayan Viciedo took a 2-1 delivery from Chavez to the opposite field over the wall in right center, his third long ball of the season, to give Chicago (19-21) a 1-0 lead in the second inning. The A’s (24-15) responded in their next turn at the plate, with right fielder Josh Reddick skying a fly ball to straight-away center field for an RBI triple. The ball carried over center fielder Leury Garcia’s head and a foot below the top of the wall, giving Nick Punto plenty of time to score from first base and tie the game.
Third basemen Josh Donaldson enter play scuffling through the month of May, hitting .194 with no home runs and a lonely pair of RBIs over 36 at-bats. He turned around his May misfortunes in the bottom of the fifth by about-facing an 87 mph 2-1 delivery from Danks. Donaldson pulled a line drive just inside the left field foul pole for a two-run home run, giving him what appeared to be his league-leading 10th go ahead RBI at the time. Reddick walked to open the inning but Danks struck out the next two Athletics to bring Donaldson to the dish with two down for the homer. Danks (3-3, 4.88) retired Cespedes on strikes to end the inning and close the book on his outing after three runs over six innings with five outs coming on strike threes.
Shortstop Jed Lowrie added what at the time appeared to be a pair of insurance runs on his 500th career hit, a double in the gap in left off reliever Daniel Webb in the seventh. Leadoff man Craig Gentry scored from first on the hit, nipping on the heels of Reddick who came around on the play to create a 5-1 Oakland edge. Reddick singled with one out to start the rally then advanced to second on Gentry’s four-pitch walk.
Lowrie advanced to third on a wild pitch with Yoenis Cespedes at the plate, but the Oakland clean-up hitter grounded into an inning double play after second basemen Gordon Beckham snag the grounder on the shortstop side of second. Beckham flipped the ball to Alexei Ramirez who pirouetted over the bag before relaying to first to gun down Cespedes by a step and avoid the big blow and set up a tense finish.
No sooner did Chavez get A’s fans on their feet by taking the mound to try to finish off the game did Jose Abreu put fans back in their seats stunned. Entering the ninth inning, Chavez managed to void the presence of dangerous designated hitter, holding him to a pair of strikeouts and a fielder’s choice in three plate appearances. Abreu finally managed to display his raw power, taking a well-pitched 0-2 offering to deep right field for his MLB best 14th homer to chase Chavez trailing 5-2.
Melvin tabbed Fernando Abad to face Adam Dunn, but the lefty specialist failed to finish the White Sox first basemen off, getting him to two strikes before issuing a walk. Chicago manager Robin Ventura replaced Dunn with the speedy Moises Sierra who moved to third position on a double by Viciedo off Jim Johnson with no outs. Alexie Ramirez, tied for the American League lead in batting average Monday morning at .333, added to his total by picking up a run-scoring single off Johnson to trim the A’s lead to two.
“Once Chavez gave up the first hit, we knew it was going to be Abad for the next guy,” said Melvin. “After that it was going to be Johnson against the righty. If we needed the backstop we had (Sean Doolittle).”
Melvin elected to utilize the backstopper Doolittle to try to neutralize pinch hitter Paul Konerko with the tying run on first base and no outs. Instead, Konerko popped the first pitch he saw to center field for a sacrifice fly, plating Viciedo from third to make it a slim 5-4 lead.
“It’s situations like that where you look at the bigger picture,” said Doolittle. “It really breaks down to, it sounds cliché to say, but one pitch at a time. There were so many things going on, Runners on first and third, a guy like Paul Konerko at the plate. I was focused on making a quality pitch right from the very start. Getting that first out was really big.”
Ramirez stole his seventh base of the season to move into scoring position but pinch hitter Tyler Flowers struck out swinging then Doolittle overpowered Leury Garcia, forcing him to chase a fastball at the eyes to convert his second save of the season.
“I really did want to get the save,” said Doolittle. “I wasn’t really thinking about it. When we were high-fiving and going through the line after the game I was really happy with preserving the game.”
While the ninth inning proved exciting for one reason, Josh Reddick’s plate appearance in the fifth was a memorable one for a different reason. Reddick finished the day 2-3 with a walk, two runs and a run batted in, but most of the talk postgame was on his switch in walk-up music in his second at-bat. The professional wrestling enthusiast ditched the entrance music of recently deceased WWE Hall of Famer The Ultimate Warrior for George Michael’s “Careless Whisper”. It certainly was a far departure from the guitar-heavy anthems players usually employ in their approach to the plate. It caught some of his teammates off guard.
“It’s just an awesome song,” said Doolittle with a straight face after the game. “It puts everyone in a good mood. I hope he keeps it up. “
Doolittle won’t be switching his battle hymn from Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” if he’s called upon tomorrow night against the White Sox to close out Drew Pomeranz’s first start as a full-time member of the rotation against Scott Carroll.
“Sometimes last year I thought about changing it,” said Doolittle. “But every time I hear it, it riles me up. I’m sticking with it for a while.”