Athletics

A's relievers pitching in for the community

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A's relievers pitching in for the community

OAKLAND -- What better place to meet Oakland Athletics mascot Stomper than at the Oakland Zoo with his fellow pachyderms? On Friday, 230 fourth and fifth graders from the Achieve Academy in Oakland had that opportunity. As part of the event, the kids were fed free pizza, got to meet Santa Claus and A's pitchers Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle. The event at the zoo was the most recent stop on the A's Holiday Caravan.

Though the A's Community Fund, the team and its employees make appearances and help raise money and awareness for community-based initiatives. For the two young relievers involved in this year's activity, it is an opportunity to use their new-found influence for good.

"It's really, really rewarding to be able to use what we do to help," Doolittle said while signing autograph cards for the kids at the zoo.

"We're in a position with what we do, being professional athletes, where we have the ability to draw attention to people in need, or deserving causes," Cook added.

Cook, 25, and Doolittle, 26, emerged as two of the top relievers in Major League Baseball in their rookie seasons with Oakland last year. Cook posted a 2.09 ERA in 71 games and was named an American League All-Star. Doolittle, who was drafted as a first baseman, worked his way up from the Instructional Leagues after converting back to a pitcher. He ripped through the Minor Leagues in just 16 appearances and posted a 3.04 ERA in 44 games with the Oakland, earning his first career win and save with the A's.

Suffice it to say, the two pitchers are a bit more recognizable amongst the kids in the East Bay. That makes it easier to pitch in.

"It's a great feeling," Cook said of interacting with the students at the zoo. "They start pointing and showing that they support us and know who we are. To be able to give back and acknowledge the hard work that they've done in the classroom, it speaks hugely to them as individuals that they are willing to put in that hard work to become something."

As part of their tour, Cook and Doolittle did appearances at the Comcast SportsNet studios and the home of 95.7 The Game. They also spent Thursday night in Walnut Creek collecting canned goods for the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano as part of a hunger relief effort with Feeding America and Bank of America. After a couple of days serving the community, the two pitchers were particularly touched by the outpouring support they got during the food drive.

"These people waited outside, and it was cold outside, for quite a bit," Doolittle said. "To be able to draw attention to the less fortunate or maybe someone in need and to have helped in that process was really cool and an example of why the A's fans are some of the best in baseball."

At the A's Community Fund event at the Zoo I was able to spend some time with both Cook and Doolittle and I asked them about their offseason, the losses of key veterans, and how they feel about the American League West in 2013. The full transcript is below.

Last year you were rookies, what's it like entering the season as established Major Leaguers?

Cook: It's the same in terms of how we go about our business. Obviously the situation is a little different that we are thrown into. I don't think that really effects anything in terms of the way I go about my business. We got a little taste of success this last year and we all saw how the season ended. And that taste of success as a team drives you individually to be a little bit better, do a little bit more to go to that next step and hopefully further into the playoffs and beyond.

Doolittle: It's not that much different. You still have the same hunger and the same drive when you are getting ready and hitting the weights and stuff. Last offseason it was because I was trying to resurrect my career as a pitcher and that was my motivating force behind everything. This year it's because of the success that we had and the way the season ended. Now knowing we are into next year with maybe a little bit of a target on our backs as the American League West champs. We want to continue to improve on that and continue to move forward. In a sense that's not good enough. We want to continue to improve on that. That drive and that hunger, and everything we do in the offseason is for maybe a little different of a reason this time.

It's tough to lose guys like Brandon McCarthy and Jonny Gomes but it has to be nice to see they got good deals, right?

Cook: Absolutely, individually speaking and from a family's point of view, both guys got what they deserved. They've proven that over the years and we're happy as all hell for them, but we're going to miss them because those guys played an integral role in what we did as a team and to our overall success. Both being veteran presences and not having many veterans on the team last year they both really helped. They both played big roles in my life and I'm sure Sean can attest to that as well.

Doolittle: They both did what was best for themselves and their families. They both got every bit of what they deserve. Jonny is going to have a field day in Boston with the Green Monster and the way the field plays, that media market is going to be eating out of his hand by the end of Spring Training. McCarthy has gone to a really first class organization in the Diamondbacks. At the same time we're happy for them yes, but you're sad in a way because things in the clubhouse are going to be a bit different. Those were two of our leaders. McCarthy was, for lack of a better term, one of the captains of the pitching staff. He helped us young guys in a lot of ways just by treating us not necessarily as rookies but as teammates. To be able to watch him go about his business even just the three months that I was there I learned a lot that I will continue to use throughout my career.

As a lefty reliever what do you think about Josh Hamilton joining the Angels?

Doolittle: If you look at it… He's in a very similar situation as he will be in the middle of another high-powered offense. He's in the middle of a lineup with dangerous guys in front of him and behind him. In Texas you had (Ian) Kinsler and (Elvis) Andrus before him and after him you had (Adrian) Beltre, (Nelson) Cruz, and Michael Young. With the Angels you have (Mike) Trout in front of him and behind him he's got (Albert) Pujols and (Mark)Trumbo, so it's a very similar thing so we're just going to have to not get caught up in the names and just attack them like we did last year.

You guys are the reigning AL West champions and there's still room to improve the team, but again you guys are going to be looked at as underdogs. Can you thrive on that role again?

Doolittle: Regardless of what any body else says, just talking to other guys this offseason there's a feeling that we want to prove that it wasn't a fluke. That it wasn't a one-time deal where everything fell into place and we caught every possible break. We want to prove to every body that we earned it, and that we deserve it, and we are looking to be a force in this division for a long period of time and I think we have the tools to do that with the young guys and the way that this front office is going to assembled this year's team and moving forward. We are the defending champs but we are out to prove that it wasn't an accident.

Cook: I think Sean hit it right on the head. We've just got to stick to our business. We didn't get any media attention last year and that's really fine. That's actually good. Last year we were young and dumb and not a lot of us had actually been there before. This year it's kind of the same thing. As you alluded to with the Angels signing Hamilton and the national media not real considering us as front runners even though we are the champions. We'll come out and look to do the same thing we did last year and keep going about our business and try to win ballgames.

A's blow it again in ninth, swept on walk-off grand slam in 10th

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A's blow it again in ninth, swept on walk-off grand slam in 10th

BOX SCORE

TORONTO  — Steve Pearce became the latest Blue Jay to hit a game-ending home run.

Pearce hit a tiebreaking grand slam in the 10th inning and Toronto beat the Oakland Athletics 8-4 on Thursday to complete a four-game sweep.

"Hopefully we just keep the ball rolling," Pearce said. "We're getting down to the end of the season so we've got to step it up and this was a great series to get it started."

Oakland reliever Liam Hendriks (3-2) walked the bases loaded with two outs before Pearce hooked a 3-2 pitch down the left field line and into the second deck. The grand slam was the second of his career and first since May 2015.

The Blue Jays won consecutive games on home runs for the first time in team history.

Kendrys Morales, who hit a game-winning homer in the ninth inning Wednesday, had two more home runs Thursday. Morales connected off Sean Manaea in the fifth and added a tying blast off Blake Treinen in the ninth, the 19th multihomer game of his career.

Treinen got the ninth in place of Santiago Casilla, who blew Wednesday's game. The Athletics have blown five of their past six save opportunities.

"We're just having trouble finishing off games," manager Bob Melvin said.

Toronto has hit four game-ending home runs this season, the third-highest total in team history. They hit six in 2011.

Josh Donaldson also homered for Toronto, a solo blast in the first.

Roberto Osuna (3-0) worked one inning for the win.

Marcus Semien had three hits and a walk for the Athletics, who have lost 12 of 13 in Toronto.

In the fifth, one batter after Blue Jays manager John Gibbons was ejected for arguing ball and strikes with home plate umpire Will Little, Stroman and catcher Russell Martin were both tossed. An irate Stroman charged toward home plate to confront Little, and had to be restrained by Martin and bench coach DeMarlo Hale.

Right-hander Chris Smith replaced Stroman and Miguel Montero took over for Martin.

Stroman allowed three runs and six hits in 4 2/3 innings, walking a season-high six. Asked about the ejection afterward, he had little to say.

"When it comes to umpires or any of that, I'm not going to be making any comments about that," Stroman said. "I want to make my next start."

Oakland struck quickly against Stroman, scoring three runs in the first against a pitcher who had allowed just four earned runs combined in his previous four July starts. Ryon Healy drove in a run with a groundout and Bruce Maxwell followed with a two-run single.

Donaldson replied with a one-out blast in the bottom half, his 10th, and Morales connected to begin the fifth, his 19th.

Toronto tied it in the sixth when Jose Bautista hit a leadoff double and scored on Justin Smoak's two-out single.

Troy Tulowitzki tried to score from second on Darwin Barney's two-out single in the seventh, but was thrown out at home plate by a strong throw from right fielder Matt Joyce.

Manaea allowed three runs and seven hits in seven innings.

"It kind of stings a little bit," Manaea said. "We had an opportunity to win and just didn't put it together."

Oakland broke a 3-all tie against Ryan Tepera in the eighth when Semien's two-out single scored Jaycob Brugman, but Morales answered in the ninth.

GETTING THE AX

Oakland RHP John Axford, the NL saves leader in 2011, was designated for assignment. Melvin said it was tough to cut Axford, citing his veteran presence in the clubhouse. Axford went 0-1 with no saves and a 6.43 ERA in 22 appearances.

WORST IN THE FIRST

Blue Jays pitchers have an AL-worst 6.35 ERA in the first inning.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Athletics: C Josh Phegley (left oblique) was placed on the 10-day DL and C Ryan Lavarnway was recalled from Triple-A Nashville. ... RHP Ryan Dull (right knee) was activated off the DL, taking Axford's spot on the roster.

Blue Jays: Quality control coach Derek Shelton replaced first base coach Tim Leiper (illness) midway through the game.

UP NEXT

Athletics: RHP Daniel Gossett (2-5, 5.40) starts the opener of a three-game home series against Minnesota. Gossett has allowed at least one homer in seven of his first eight starts. Newly acquired LHP Jaime Garcia (4-7. 4.30) goes for the Twins.

Blue Jays: LHP J.A. Happ (3-7, 4.13) starts the opener of a three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels. Happ allowed a season-high seven earned runs in his previous outing, a July 23 loss at Cleveland. RHP Parker Bridwell (4-1, 3.09) starts for the Angels.

There was so much more to Bill King’s life beyond the broadcast booth

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There was so much more to Bill King’s life beyond the broadcast booth

When the Hall of Fame presents Bill King with the Ford C. Frick award Saturday, it will be big not only for the multitude of fans that listened to him but the colleagues who worked alongside the legendary A's broadcaster.

“I think he was the very best radio sports broadcaster we’ve ever had in this country,” NBC Sports Bay Area’s Greg Papa said. “He’s just a radio genius. To me, he epitomized the Bay Area as a sportscaster because he was the Bay Area. His word choice, his vocabulary, the way he was able to describe things. In so many ways he was the perfect Bay Area radio broadcaster.”

King was the rare breed of broadcaster, someone versatile enough and knowledgable enough to excel at announcing three major sports — football with the Raiders from 1966-92, basketball with the Warriors from 1962-83 and baseball with the A’s from 1981 until his death in 2005.

It was baseball that was nearest to his heart. And while his expertise at describing a ballgame was unparalleled, there was so much more to King’s life beyond the broadcast booth. That’s something current A’s radio play-by-play man Ken Korach discovered in the decade he worked alongside King after joining the A’s in 1995.

Korach, who chronicled King’s career in the 2013 book “Holy Toledo: Lessons from Bill King, Renaissance Man of the Mic”, found himself visiting art museums with King during A’s road trips.

“He was a patron of the arts and the ballet, the opera,” Korach said. “One thing that people may not know is that he was a wonderful impressionist painter. He painted landscapes that were absolutely beautiful, breaththaking.”

Korach has one of King’s paintings hanging in his den.

Like King, Papa also announced three different sports at the same time for a period — football with the Raiders, basketball with the San Antonio Spurs and baseball with the A’s. When he joined the A’s television booth in 1990, King was a crucial resource for him.

“When I began doing A’s TV in 1990, I would listen to Bill and have a legal pad out and take notes,” said Papa, who still calls Raider games. “It was better than any research I could do. He was so meticulously prepared.”

Korach chuckled when recalling King’s idiosyncrasies in the booth, such as insisting the window always remain open regardless of the elements.

“Even if it was December in Cleveland, and it was a Raider game and snowing and 5 degrees, the window would stay open,” Korach said. “He was real meticulous with the way he would set up the table when broadcasting the game, all of the notes in a certain place. And the wind would just wreak havoc. There was one game when literally I was on the air and he just took all of his stuff and slammed it on the ground, he was so upset and frustrated.”

For many years King was bypassed for Cooperstown, his excellence in three sports probably robbing him of being appreciated in one specific sport. On Saturday, he gets the ultimate tribute in being inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Korach and his wife, Denise, will be on hand for the ceremony.

“The most important thing,” Korach said, “is what it means to A’s fans, and fans in the Bay Area in general.”