OAKLAND –- Jon Lester was the focal point Saturday as he took the mound in his A’s debut, but the story of the game unfolded with Oakland’s new ace seated on the bench.
The A’s batted around in an eight-run fifth inning and coasted to an 8-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals.
That made a winner of Lester (11-7), who certainly did his part by throwing 6 2/3 innings of three-run ball. He left in the seventh to a standing ovation from an appreciative Coliseum crowd, tipping his cap after his first outing since Thursday’s blockbuster trade that sent him from the Boston Red Sox to the A’s.
For a while, it appeared Lester would have to be at his stingiest best Saturday. The A’s couldn’t generate anything off Royals lefty Jason Vargas through the first four innings. Trailing 1-0, they broke out in the fifth with a rally that tied their season-high for runs in an inning.
It was a welcome sight for manager Bob Melvin considering the A’s had been in an offensive dry spell for the past four games.
Jonny Gomes, the other player acquired from Boston for Yoenis Cespedes, finished 2-for-4 with two RBI.
Starting pitching report
Lester scattered nine hits, struck out three and walked one over 104 pitches. He pitchd with runners on base in all but one inning, but kept the Royals at bay. His fastball generally sat in the low-90’s and he showed the solid repertoire that’s made him one of the major leagues’ most dominant starters in recent years.
The only run off him came in the third, when Salvador Perez’s sacrifice fly scored Alcides Escobar.
Ryan Cook and Jesse Chavez closed out the victory.
At the plate
Not a single A’s batter had reached base through four innings.
Then Oakland sent 11 men to the plate during an eight-run rally in the fifth that featured eight base hits.
The A’s did the damage in a variety of ways: hits to the opposite field, a bunt single from Sam Fuld, a pop-up from Jonny Gomes that was lost in the sun. They also benefited from an error by Royals left fielder Alex Gordon that allowed one of the runs to score.
It was a much-needed reversal of fortune for the A’s after they were shut out through the first 13 innings of this series. It all began when Derek Norris led off the fifth with a double to right-center off Jason Vargas (8-5). Alberto Callaspo broke through with a line single to right-center to bring home the A’s first run. That was the first of five consecutive singles for Oakland, as Josh Reddick and Nick Punto also drove home runs.
Josh Donaldson drew a bases-loaded walk and Gomes, in his second at-bat of the inning, lined a two-run single that scooted past Gordon and brought a third run home.
Vargas must have been shell-shocked when he exited with one out in the fifth. He began the inning with a perfect game and was charged with seven runs in 4 1/3 innings when all was said and done.
An injury to Punto put a damper on the rally, as he left with a leg injury while putting on the breaks rounding third. His status wasn’t immediately known.
In the field
Fuld, starting his second game in a row in center, provided Lester a huge lift in the top of the fourth. With a runner at third, he charged in to catch Moustakas’ liner and quickly unloaded a throw home that nailed Gordon, who had tagged up from third. Fuld had so much momentum going toward home plate that he completed a somersault on his follow-through. His throw brought Norris, the catcher, up the line as he applied the tag. Umpires reviewed whether Norris blocked Gordon’s path illegally, but the play stood.
In two games since being re-acquired from Minnesota, Fuld has provided a shot in the arm with both his defense and hitting.
Lester’s debut –- not to mention a Yoenis Cespedes T-shirt giveaway –- drew a crowd of 30,097.
Scott Kazmir (12-3, 2.37) takes the ball for the A’s in Sunday’s 1:05 p.m. series finale, with James Shields (9-6, 3.50) going for the Royals. Kazmir pitching at the Coliseum, during the afternoon, usually brings good things for the A’s. His 1.54 home ERA is the lowest in the American League, and his 0.93 ERA during the day is the lowest in the majors.