Programming note: Orioles-A’s coverage starts Saturday at 5 p.m. with A’s Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California.
OAKLAND – If you were watching the A’s on Friday and thinking this team needed a pick-me-up, their third baseman was thinking the same thing.
Before stepping to the plate in the bottom of the ninth, Josh Donaldson had a quick chat with teammate Scott Kazmir.
“I said, ‘I need something good to happen right now just to get things kick-started,’” Donaldson shared after the game. “I didn’t know it would be a three-run game-winning homer, but I’ll take it.”
[INSTANT REPLAY: Donaldson hits walk-off HR as A's beat Orioles 5-4]
With one swing of the bat, Oakland’s brightest All-Star turned a lackluster night for the home team into one for the time capsule. He drilled a sinker off Baltimore lefty Zach Britton for a walk-off three run shot that gave the A’s a 5-4 victory.
The turnaround happened quickly. An infield dribbler that Yoenis Cespedes legged out for a single. A broken-bat single from Brandon Moss. Then Donaldson, simply trying to lift something in the air, hit the first pitch he saw over the wall in left-center.
Could one have scripted more compelling theatre? Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, booed lustily all night, appeared to deliver a bitter pill for the Coliseum crowd to swallow with his two-run go-ahead homer in the seventh.
How appropriate that it was Donaldson who trumped that blast with one of his own. It was a yelling match between Donaldson and Machado that began a tension-filled series at Camden Yards back in early June, when Machado ultimately was suspended five games for flinging his bat out toward the A’s infield after an inside pitch.
The whole controversy made national headlines, making this weekend’s series one that generated no shortage of hype coming out of the All-Star break.
Donaldson said he and his teammates tried not to get wrapped up in the extracurricular drama. But there’s no doubting that Friday’s game was more emotionally charged than most. It was the kind that can set a tone for a team entering the second half, and thanks to Donaldson that tone is a positive one for the A’s.
His teammates and manager are getting used to his late-inning heroics. You’ll remember it was Donaldson who also hit a walkoff three-run homer in May off Detroit’s Joe Nathan. He also teed off on the first pitch that night.
“I enjoy those moments,” Donaldson said. “You gotta try to relish the opportunity. Anytime I can step up to the plate with an at-bat to help our team win the game, I feel better about it.”
The walk-off victory got Jeff Samardzija off the hook. In his third start with Oakland, Samardzija pitched decently for seven innings, but he allowed two-run homers to Jonathan Schoop and Machado that appeared to be difference-makers.
Then Donaldson stepped in, and even the newcomer Samardzija wasn’t surprised.
“It’s just his personality,” the right-hander said. “You’ll see as the season goes on and his career goes on that J.D. is gonna be his best in big situations. Just being here two weeks I can tell that. He gets those big eyes and gets excited and those are the guys you want up in those situations.”
For all the talk of how competing in the Home Run Derby might mess with Donaldson’s swing, perhaps it actually benefited him. He entered Friday hitting just .159 over his previous 32 games but says he’d been feeling better than those numbers showed.
“I definitely felt it gave me an opportuntiy to continue working,” Donaldson said of his busy All-Star itinerary, “because the last two weeks before the break I feel like I’ve been more comfortable in the box and having a better idea of what I wanna do up there.”
So the opponent, the storyline and the finish might have been unique. As for the man who ultimately played hero for the A’s, that was somewhat predictable.