Jonny Gomes, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick of the Oakland Athletics celebrate a walk off victory in the bottom of the 15th inning defeating the Toronto Blue Jays 5-4 at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, California. Crisp hit a sacrifice fly scoring Jemile Weeks from third base. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Friday night, the Oakland Athletics needed 15 innings and some brilliant defense, but finally topped the Blue Jays for their MLB-leading 15th walk-off victory this season.
Friday began oddly for the Oakland Athletics.
It's not often that a contending team trades its No. 1 catcher in August, but that's exactly what the A's did.
We might have taken the trade of Kurt Suzuki as a) a pure salary dump, and b) a sign that management doesn't think much of the club's chances, and is already thinking almost solely about 2013.
But if that were the case, why would the A's summon their top pitching prospect from the minors, and bump Travis Blackley from the rotation? Because that's exactly what the A's did, sending hot prospect Dan Straily to the mound against the Blue Jays, Friday night for his major-league debut.
Friday ended oddly, too. For one thing, it was almost Saturday in Oakland. It was Saturday in Toronto. Well into Saturday. For a second thing, the A's captured their 13th walk-off victory this season.
Or maybe you don't think that's odd, because they've done it so often. Odd or not, they did it again. In the 15th inning.
A lot came before that, though. Dan Straily looked real good. His line included six innings and just one run, with one walk and five strikeouts. Upon his departure, after throwing 102 pitches, the A's held a 4-1 lead on the strength of Brandon Inge's RBI single, Josh Reddick's sacrifice fly, and solo home runs from Jonny Gomes and Chris Carter.*
* Gomes' home run was particularly notable, as it was the 115th hit by an Athletic this season. Friday night, the A's played their 106th game. Last year, the A's hit 114 home runs in 162 games. If you've been wondering about the biggest difference between last year's A's and this year's A's, you may now wonder no more.
After eight innings, Oakland's lead was still 4-1. Things seemed well in hand, with rookie closer Ryan Cook on the mound. First batter: Strikeout. Second batter: Strikeout.
Oddly, though ...
Third batter: Single.
Fourth batter: Single.
Fifth batter: Home Run. Tie Game.
Oh, if that weren't odd enough, that game-tying home run was walloped by Jeff Mathis. Slugger extraordinaire.
Then the bullpens took over for a while.
In the top of the 10th, the Blue Jays mounted a two-out threat, but sidearm pitcher Pat Neshek, having just joined the A's after being acquired in a trade with the Orioles, snuffed the rally, then struck out all three batters he faced in the 11th.
In the top of the 12th, the Blue Jays sort of almost scored. With one out, Omar Vizquel -- in the game because Brett Lawrie got hurt earlier -- looped a single into left field. Colby Rasmus followed with a double into the left-field corner, but the baseball didn't quite reach the wall, and by the time Vizquel had stumbled around third and arrived at the plate, the baseball and the catcher's mitt and the tag were waiting for him, as he looked all of his 45 years.
Often in these marathon contests, teams run out of pitchers. Before that happened, though, the Blue Jays ran out of hitters. With Lawrie already out, center fielder Colby Rasmus also exited with an injury. That meant some shuffling, the Jays lost their Designated Hitter slot, and so reliever Aaron Loup had to bat for himself in the 15th (he led off, and grounded out).
Also in the 15th, A's shortstop Eric Sogard made a fantastic play, ranging far into the hole to field a ground ball; with nowhere near enough time to make a throw to first, Sogard made a perfect peg to third base for an inning-ending force play.
It finally ended in the bottom of the 15th. Jemile Weeks led off, and took a fastball from Loup for strike one. But when Loup threw exactly the same pitch, Week drove it into the right-field corner and didn't stop running until he'd reached third base with plenty of room to spare.
Sometimes in this situation, the manager will do something unorthodox. He might order the bases loaded with a couple of intentional walks. He might go with a five-man infield and a two-man outfield. But aside from pulling his infield in for a plate at the plate, John Farrell played it straight. Which was probably the right thing to do, as Coco Crisp lifted a fly ball to medium-depth center field. Anthony Gose caught the ball and uncorked a strong throw home, but there just wasn't time to nab the speedy Weeks, who slide home safely to ignite, just four minutes before midnight, yet another celebration in the Coliseum.
With the A's winning and the Angels losing, Oakland maintained their spot at the top of the Wild Card standings. There's still a lot of season left, but with each victory the A's seem a bit more like legitimate contenders to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Which was also the last time they finished with a winning record.