The season-ticket experience with the Oakland A’s continued two weekends ago and it was our first Saturday night/Sunday day combo trip. The A’s were taking on the Royals, who we now know were just starting a major tailspin. The A’s had taken the Friday night game with some high drama as they bested James Shields by a score of 2-1 on the strength of an Adam Rosales homer in the bottom of the 8th. Jarrod Parker battled Shields to a standstill that night before the late-inning action.
SATURDAY NIGHT, A’S 2, ROYALS 1
The series continued on Saturday night with Tommy Milone taking on Ervin Santana and another pitcher’s duel played out. This game also ended as a 2-1 win for the home team and the sold-out crowd was happy as they stuck around for post-game fireworks.
It didn’t look like Milone would be around for long as he labored early and got his pitch count way up to cause some concern. He limited the damage to one first-inning run, however, and made it through 6 full innings to the surprise of many after 111 pitches.
Santana was nails as he kept the Oakland bats quiet through 5 innings, but the A’s broke through in the 6th for 2 runs behind a Jed Lowrie sac fly and an RBI triple by Josh Donaldson. That was it for the scoring as Oakland’s terrific trio of relievers, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook and Grant Balfour, made it stand up.
Cook handled the 7th inning and put the Royals down on 18 pitches with no baserunners and 2 K’s. Then it was showtime.
When Doolittle came into the game, it was one of those ballpark experiences that detractors of the O.co Coliseum aren’t aware of. Metallica blared, the crazies in the RF bleachers went nuts and the whole stadium was rocking.
Doolittle had a dominant 8th inning where he threw 9 pitches, all strikes and moved the game forward. Then, after the A’s went down quietly in the bottom of the 8th with just a Yoenis Cespedes single, it was on to the top of the 9th with the A’s holding a 1-run lead. Enter the closer.
As the teams changed sides, the scoreboards high above the O.co Coliseum went completely blank as the fans buzzed in anticipation. A heartbeat graphic began, the crowd noise built to a roar and then the scoreboards, with the heavy middle section of Metallica’s “One” blasting throughout the park , displayed the flashing text: Balfour……RAGE.
It was a rock concert-worthy entrance for Grant Balfour and the RF stands became a mosh pit while the rest of the house was bouncing and screaming. The A’s closer made his way from the bullpen, wound up tighter than a drum, and released some energy before and after his warmups with a few of his well known emotional yells. Pretty cool scene in the East Bay.
Here’s the best part. Balfour couldn’t find the plate with a compass to start the top of the 9th with a 1-run lead. But that probably just made him scarier to the Royals’ hitters. He walked Eric Hosmer on five pitches to start the inning, then got behind Salvador Perez, 2-0. But he got Perez and Mike Moustakas out on the next two pitches before falling behind Jeff Francoeur, 3-1. A flyout to Coco Crisp on the next pitch ended the game and Balfour was raging with his 8th save after throwing 14 pitches, only 5 for strikes.
That was the most exciting game we’ve had in that yard so far this year, nothing else has been close.
SUNDAY AFTERNOON, A’S 4, ROYALS 3
Going for the sweep, the A’s sent A.J. Griffin to the mound against Luis Mendoza. This was our first game this year where the Coliseum wasn’t filled to the gills. There were over 20,000 people and it was a good, lively crowd, just not a sellout like most of the games we’ve been to.
It was another tense matchup and the home crowd left happy while Kansas City had their hearts broken again by a 4-3 A’s win. The Royals racked up 11 hits, 7 of them off of Griffin, while taking the lead and keeping it through 6 innings. But the A’s struck for a single run in the 7th to tie the game at 3-3.
In the bottom of the 8th, KC reliever Kelvin Herrera came on and gave up a laser beam homer to Cespedes that cleared the high wall in deep left-center field. With Balfour having closed out the previous two games, it was Cook who came on for the bottom of the 9th.
Cook made it interesting, throwing 21 pitches and allowing 2-out singles to Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer to put the tying run on 3rd. But the former closer induced Moustakas to ground out to 2B Adam Rosales and it was a 3-game sweep for the A’s.
The A’s scored 8 runs over the 3 games and swept the series. That’s a pretty nice feat. Timely hitting, poise from the starting pitchers, however young, and a bullpen that is solid on the back end was what it took to win all 3 games by a combined score of 8-5.
Our accommodations were within walking distance of the Coliseum, but we drove in anyway because we had major barbecue plans. So much so that we had to visit the nearest grocery store after Saturday night’s game to re-stock for the morning ahead. Other than that, we headed to Jack London Square on Sunday morning to walk around, relax and shop at the farmers market, and we also spent some time at Lake Merritt. It was more than a trip to the ballpark, but not quite a vacation; a pretty good experience that we didn’t have to break the bank for. Oakland isn’t San Francisco by any means, but it’s a lot nicer place than most people know, and you don’t need to dress like you’re going ice fishing just to survive your trip to the ballpark.
All photos: Steve Cummings/HotStoveHeat.com