It took the final reliever in the A’s bullpen to finally close out a wild victory Saturday.
Jeff Francis came on in the bottom of the 14th with the bases loaded and one out, and the lefty got two pressure-packed outs to preserve Oakland’s 7-6 win over the Miami Marlins.
Francis, a little-used long reliever, replaced Jim Johnson (4-2), who delivered 2 1/3 strong innings but then loaded the bases in the 14th with Oakland clinging to a one-run lead. Francis struck out switch hitter Jarrod Saltalamacchia looking for the second out, then retired Donovan Solano on a fly ball to right to end it and get his first save with the A’s.
It had been a long, frustrating day for A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson, but he came through with a two-out RBI single in the top of the 14th to break a 6-6 tie.
The marathon victory ended a day in which the A’s watched an early four-run lead evaporate for the second day in a row. Then closer Sean Doolittle surrendered the tying run in the bottom of the ninth. That ended a streak of 26 2/3 scoreless innings (over 24 outings) for Doolittle, the fourth-longest scoreless streak for a reliever in Oakland history.
Starting pitching report
Whether it was the nine-day layoff or not, Sonny Gray was not in sharp form in his shortest start of the season. The Marlins got to him for four hits in their three-run second that shaved a 4-0 A’s lead down to 4-3. That inning also included an uncharacteristic error from Gray, as he lobbed a throw to first in the dirt on Nathan Eovaldi’s sacrifice bunt attempt.
Miami jumped ahead 5-4 with two runs off Gray in the fourth. A walk and a hit batter contributed to that rally. Giancarlo Stanton went down to get a 2-2 pitch low in the zone and ripped a single to left that brought in the tying run to highlight that rally.
Gray went just five innings and gave up five runs on seven hits. It was the second start in the past four that he’s allowed five runs.
Ryan Cook, slow to round into form after coming off the disabled list, has now been sharp in his past two outings. He turned in a 1-2-3 sixth inning in relief of Gray, and if Cook continues to retire hitters, it won’t be long before he starts pitching in more late-inning situations and perhaps takes some of the workload off Dan Otero. Otero, by the way, turned in two scoreless innings of his own over the 10th and 11th.
At the plate
The A’s have scored in the first inning of all four games so far on this road trip, and they lead the AL with 58 first-inning runs. On Saturday, they jumped on Marlins right-hander Nathan Eovaldi for four in the first. Brandon Moss singled home two runs and Alberto Callaspo’s blooper brought home another to key the rally.
After Miami battled back to take a 5-4 lead, the A’s answered back in the fifth thanks to Coco Crisp. He was on third when Brandon Moss swung at a ball in the dirt for strike three. The ball skipped away from Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and as he threw to first, Crisp broke for home and scored ahead of Garrett Jones’ throw to make it 5-5.
Then Callaspo singled home Jed Lowrie in the eighth to give Oakland a 6-5 lead.
Could the A’s have added on in the ninth? Yoenis Cespedes stole second, but as he popped up out of his slide, he took his foot off the bag and was tagged for the third out.
In the field
Another game brought another outfield assist for the A’s, and it was a big one. With the A’s protecting a one-run lead in the eighth, Jake Marisnick shot a single that got under the glove of first baseman Brandon Moss and rolled into right field. Craig Gentry, who entered the game as a pinch hitter in the top of the inning, retrieved the ball and fired a strike to second that easily beat Marisnick, who tried for a double. Gentry put the ball right on the glove of shortstop Jed Lowrie, who never had to move his hand in applying the tag.
Tommy Milone (5-3, 3.89) takes the mound for the A’s in Sunday’s 10:10 a.m. series finale against Marlins lefty Andrew Heaney (0-2, 4.91).