By Matthew T.F. Harrington
OAKLAND, Calif. – The Oakland Athletics hosted their 16th annual Root Beer Float day Wednesday night at the O.Co Coliseum, treating fans to a sweet treat before the game before Ike Davis served des the dessert during the game. After raising $34,709 for the Juvenile Diabetes Relief Fund, the A’s topped Felix Doubront and the Toronto Blue Jays 4-3 on a pinch-hit single.
Josh Phegley, Stephen Vogt and Jake Smolinski all knocked in runs as well, and starter Sonny Gray pitched seven innings of two-run ball to help Oakland (44-52) pass the Seattle Mariners to move a half-game out of the American League West cellar. The Blue Jays (48-48) fall back to .500 after winning the first game of the series.
The walk-off came in bizarre fashion in the bottom of the 10th, with the A’s not sure if they in fact were winners. Davis bounced a chopper that Jose Reyes dove for before tossing to first, allowing another late inning sub Josh Reddick to score on what first base umpire Marvin Hudson ruled a base hit in a bang-bang play.
“I didn’t think he was going to catch it,” said Davis. “As soon as I hit it I thought ‘that’s going to be a hit’. He made a good play and it was really close.”
Davis came off the bench to pinch hit against deposed Jays closer Roberto Osuna (1-4, 2.28 ERA) and quickly fell behind 0-2. He managed to fight off a fastball, trickling it to the opposite field for the hit.
“Ike was coming in cold,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin. “That’s a tough assignment. After the first couple pitches he was behind. He fouled some back, wasn’t trying to do too much. He wanted to put it in play on the other side of the diamond.”
“He blew it by me twice,” said Davis. “I knew I had to shorten up. I tried to hit the ball hard the first two times.”
It wasn’t without drama though. Amidst a brief A’s celebration, Toronto manager John Gibbons asked for, and was granted, a replay review. The A’s players gathered on the mound, awaiting their fate.
“It’s a tough position to be in,” said Reddick. “If they turn it over, we’re going to look like idiots.”
After a 2 minutes and 45 seconds of review, home plate ump Hunter Wendelstedt confirmed that the call on the field would stand, with there being inconclusive evidence to overturn the call.
“They stayed with what they were told to do,” said Melvin on the ruling. “If there’s no definitive proof to overturn, you stay with it. It was nerve-wracking waiting on the verdict, but we’ll take it.”
“It felt like the longest replay of the year,” noted Reddick.
The A’s very briefly celebrated before racing into the dugout.
“We had a lot of fun out there planning our exit,” said Davis on the pre-concocted curtain call.
The game could have gone entirely the other way though. With Oakland leading 3-2, Tyler Clippard took over in the ninth inning looking for save number 18. He opened the inning issuing a free pass to Danny Valencia then coughing up a double to Devon Travis. Jose Reyes walked to load the bases with former A’s slugger Josh Donaldson up to the dish.
Clippard managed to down Donaldson on strikes, but brought around the tying run after walking Jose Bautista. He managed to coax an Edwin Encarnacion strikeout and Dionner Navarro fly out to escape the jam tied. Fernando Rodriguez (1-1, 3.21) then pitched a scoreless tenth to pick up the win.
“That’s tough,” said Melvin on Clippard’s outing. “Now you’re in a no-win situation. All you can do is keep it tied. You have the middle of their order up, some tough customers to deal with.”
“To get back into the dugout a tie game allowed us to win that game later,” added Melvin.
For the second night in a row Josh Donaldson managed to sour his warm homecoming by driving in a run, plating the first run of the game on a single up the middle in the top of the third inning. He’d endear himself to A’s fans again an inning later, throwing a tricky grounder in the dirt to give Smolinski a two-base error. Smolinski moved over to third base on a Ben Zobrist single, then came around to score on Phegley’s liner up the middle, knotting the game 1-1.
With starter Sonny Gray not featuring his sharpest stuff the A’s offense supported its ace, tacking on a pair of runs in the fifth. Billy Burns reached on a single, then swiped second before being knocked in on Stephen Vogt’s base hit. Melvin wasn’t able to see the singling, getting ejected after arguing a strike call on a botched pitchout during Burns’ steal.
“There was a bit of a miscommunication,” said Melvin on the situation. “I was asking if it was a pitchout. I think (homeplate umpire Wendelstedt) thought I was continuing to argue.”
Zobrist would also single, forcing Doubront to issue the intentional walk to Billy Butler to create a force out. Smolinski hit a deep fly to center field, but center fielder Kevin Pillar managed to pull in the ball. Vogt scampered home to convert the sacrifice. Brett Lawrie appeared to crack the game open with a scorching liner up the middle, but second baseman Devon Travis was perfectly positioned to field the hot shot.
Gray gave the fans a scare in the sixth, taking an Edwin Encarnacion liner up the middle off his back foot. After a brief visit from the trainer and a smile from Gray, the ace continued on no worse for wear.
“I knew he broke his bat, I just didn’t know how fast it was coming,” said Gray. “I knew it hit me pretty solid.”
“I was telling Vogt and Phegley I was fine,” said Gray on why he was smiling during the trainer’s visit. “They told me to tell the dugout that, but the trainer was already out there.”
The A’s would need both runs after Danny Valencia opened the 7th inning with a first-pitch homer to straight-away center field. Gray would finish out the inning, sandwiching a Donaldson walk between a pair of outs. He’d depart the game after finishing the inning, having struck out three while walking two and allowing 9 hits for two earned runs but wound up with a no-decision.
“They really made him work for a while,” said Melvin. “He was throwing some good pitches and they weren’t trying to do too much with them. They were hitting the ball the other way, fouling some pitches off.”
“There are outings like that where you really have to work hard on it,” stated Melvin. “He ends up leaving with the lead. I thought he pitched really well.”
Edward Mujica relieved Gray in the 8th, opening the inning with a leadoff single to Encarnacion. Mujica would erase the baserunner, fielding a grounder from Chris Colabello to start the 1-4-3 double play. He would cough up a two-out single to Russell Martin, then hand second base to pinch runner Ezequiel Carrera on a wild pitch before mowing down Pillar on a ground out to shortstop Marcus Semien.
Doubront would have been the hardluck loser. The southpaw went just 4 2/3 innings, allowing 7 hits and two earned runs to go with the unearned marker.
Donaldson and the Jays wrap up their first visit to the Coliseum this season with a matinee game Wednesday. Scott Kazmir takes the mound in what may be one of his last starts in the green and gold with the trade deadline approaching. He’ll be opposed by youngster Drew Hutchinson.