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These A's, they just keep doing it
“I felt pure elation,” Blevins said. “It was one of the loudest screams I’ve even given, I think, on the baseball field.”
His fielders rejoiced and rushed to exchange high fives. The rest of the Athletics poured out of the dugout, fists raised. If this was a dress rehearsal for the postseason, my goodness, the A’s looked ready for October, immediately if not sooner.
Athletics 6, Los Angeles Angels 5, and don’t ask how. Actually, go ahead and ask, because this game was yet another fitting chapter in the Athletics’ unlikely season.
Big homers, defensive heroics and late-inning dramatics — and oh yes, rookie right-hander Daniel Straily working into the seventh inning after allowing six of his first 10 runners to reach in, ahem, only his fourth major league start.
The Athletics extended their road winning streak to 11 games, matching the second-longest in club history. Even more important, they extended their wild-card cushion to four games over the Rays, 4-1/2 over the Angels.
And trust me, they saved the best for last.
“So far in my career, that is definitely the biggest moment, the most exciting,” said Blevins, 29, who is in his fifth full season. “I think that even trumps my debut.”
Maybe you haven’t heard of Blevins. Or if you have, maybe you know him best for his, uh, unusual 6-foot-6, 175-pound frame. But on this night, he gave the A’s closer, Grant Balfour, a government-style bailout.
Blevins entered the game in about as difficult a situation as there can be for a reliever, let alone one who had one career save.
Runners on first and third. None out in the ninth inning. The Athletics’ lead down to run one, after the Angels already had scored twice in the inning.
Athletics manager Bob Melvin went for Blevins, wanting to turn around switch-hitter Kendrys Morales, who was batting only .219 with a .687 OPS in 64 at-bats from the right side.
Melvin said afterward that he thought the Angels might counter with Mark Trumbo, but that wasn’t happening, and not just because Trumbo is in a 1-for-20 slump.
Morales had laced an RBI double off Blevins when the teams met last week in Oakland. True, it was Morales’ only hit off a lefty in 12 at-bats since Aug. 1. But it was a big hit nonetheless.
Adding to the degree of difficulty for Blevins: The Angels ran Peter Bourjos for Pujols, creating the threat of a stolen base that would eliminate the possibility of a double play. The Athletics, meanwhile, played their infield back, conceding the tying run.
A well-placed groundball would have tied it. A well-placed fly ball would have tied it. But no. Morales had beaten Blevins the previous week on a cutter inside. This time, Blevins got ahead with his fastball, and struck out Morales on a 1-2 changeup.
One out, Howie Kendrick next.
The left-right matchup wasn’t ideal for Oakland — right-handed hitters had entered the night with a .729 OPS against Blevins, left-handed hitters with a .554. But Balfour had just left the game, and Melvin said that right-hander Ryan Cook was unavailable.
It was Blevins or bust.
At third base, Josh Donaldson told himself, “Just relax. Don’t rush your throw.” Earlier in the game, Donaldson had rushed two throws, one for an error.
At second base, Cliff Pennington prepared himself to turn the double play, no simple task for a former shortstop who was playing only his 31st career game at the position.
“I have no idea what I’m doing over there,” Pennington said afterward. “I’m just trying to catch and throw it.”
Kendrick, the Angels’ No. 5 hitter, was 0-for-4 on the night. A’s catcher George Kottaras, wanting to get a groundball, repeatedly called for Blevins to throw fastballs inside.
Kendrick took the first pitch for a ball. He fouled off the next two. Then he hit the ball right at Donaldson, and a near-victory for the Angels turned into a sudden defeat, 5-4-3.
It was the 23rd time that Kendrick had grounded into a double play this season, tied for the second-highest total in the AL.
Blevins, whose only other career save had been on Aug. 19, 2010, had stunned even his manager.
“Talk about Houdini,” Melvin said.
Inside the jubilant Athletics’ clubhouse, one player mocked the Angels’ rally monkey, screaming, “Get back in your cage, monkey!”
Out on the field, Blevins waited for a teammate to pelt him with a shaving-cream pie — waited in vain.
“I was so disappointed,” Blevins said. “I was half-expecting it while I was doing the TV (interview). The first thing I said was, ‘Where’s my pie?’ That was a perfect moment for a pitcher to get a little love.”
Maybe next time, Jerry. Maybe in the playoffs.