OAKLAND – The entire A’s team got swept up in the emotion of Josh Donaldson’s walk-off home run Wednesday night, including the teammate who most benefited from it.
Scott Kazmir got rewarded with a victory in his first complete game in eight years, yet even he came off like a giddy spectator when talking about the A’s dramatic 3-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers.
“You just kind of had that feeling when (Donaldson) came up, to be honest with you,” Kazmir said after the game. “He saw that first pitch and didn’t miss it. That was awesome.”
On a night that had to mean so much to Kazmir individually, he preferred steering the attention toward his team. Having tossed a gem that brought to mind all he’s gone through in the past, Kazmir instead pointed to the future.
His story is well-chronicled. A one-time phenom as he came up with Tampa Bay, his career hit a low point in 2011 when he was released by the Los Angeles Angels and eventually wound up pitching in independent-league ball. He’s been back in the majors for nearly 1 ½ seasons, and Kazmir’s outing Wednesday seemed like such a sweet reward for the road he’s traveled.
Reminded that his last (and only) complete game in the majors before Wednesday came back in July 2006, when he shut out Boston while a member of the Rays, Kazmir responded:
“It was a long time ago, actually. I’m just focusing on right now, to know what I’m capable of doing and keep the same approach every time out there.”
Donaldson, for one, was happy to reward Kazmir. Just a day earlier, it was announced that the A’s third baseman was leading the American League’s All-Star voting for his position. He’s trying to become the first A’s position player to make the Midsummer Classic since 2003, and he provided dramatic validation of his worthiness Wednesday night.
The A’s trailed 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth as Donaldson stepped to the plate with runners on the corners and one out against Tigers closer Joe Nathan. Figuring Nathan might go to his slider on the first pitch, Donaldson turned on the offering and drilled a deep three-run blast that hooked inside the left field foul pole.
“I was praying inside that it would stay fair,” Donaldson said.
It was his second career walk-off homer. The first came April 12 of last season, also against Detroit at the Coliseum. It just so happens that the image on the A’s season tickets for Wednesday’s game showed Donaldson, getting interviewed with whipped cream still on his face after last year’s shot.
The scene repeated itself Wednesday, and in such a situation, Donaldson said the key for him is not getting too caught up in the moment.
“It’s tough as a hitter,” he said. “I get over-excited sometimes. When we have the music going and everybody’s jumping up and down, you really want to come through.”
He did, and the A’s pulled out a victory that would seem to provide quite the emotional swing. They had scrounged up just two hits through eight innings against Anibal Sanchez. A shutout loss would have been their sixth defeat in seven games. With one swing of Donaldson’s bat, they now stand a chance to win this four-game series against a team that arrived in Oakland with the American League’s best record.
That honor belongs to the A’s (32-21), for now, and they lead the A.L. West by 2 ½ games over the Angels.
They can thank Donaldson, not to mention a starting pitcher who commanded the spotlight for nine innings even as he tried to avoid it afterward.