ANAHEIM – The heroes, as they are after so many A’s victories, were unpredictable.
There were lots of disappointing turns for Oakland over a four-plus hour game Tuesday night, but whenever one player faltered, it seemed someone else was ready to pick up the slack in a 10-9 win over the Los Angeles Angels in 11 innings.
Dan Straily stumbled in one of the rare subpar starting pitching efforts of the season. In stepped Drew Pomeranz with 2 2/3 innings of stabilizing relief. Sean Doolittle gave up Mike Trout’s game-tying two-run home run in the ninth inning. But Jim Johnson was there to back it up with two shutout innings to get the victory.
There were missed opportunities with men in scoring position and inexplicable baserunning mistakes. But there were also three hits each from Jed Lowrie and Josh Donaldson. There were two RBI off the bench from Derek Norris and two more RBI from No. 9 hitter Eric Sogard.
So often, when failure is staring them in the face, the A’s simply see an alternate route for success.
“There’s a sense in this clubhouse that if the score is close or tied late in the game, it’s like “All right, how are we gonna do this? Who is gonna be the guy to step up tonight?” Doolittle said.
In the aftermath of Tuesday’s marathon, the most intriguing individual storyline is Johnson, and what his clutch two-inning stint might mean for his future in the bullpen.
Melvin said before the game that it made sense to stick with the closer-by-committee approach because it was working so well. But for the first time, that strategy faltered as Doolittle couldn’t nail down the victory in nine innings. He and Gregerson have been alternating save opportunities.
But Johnson, stripped of closer duties on Thursday, has shown signs of righting himself. He’s thrown three consecutive scoreless outings, during which he’s gone five innings and surrendered just two hits with five strikeouts. He’s also starting to induce ground balls, his bread-and-butter for success.
Melvin praised Johnson, explaining that because Gregerson and Fernando Abad were unavailable, Johnson would have taken the ball for a third inning if the game went to the 12th.
“Jim Johnson was terrific, that was huge,” Melvin said. “We didn’t have Gregerson or Abad available today, so it was his game. He knew it, and that was pretty impressive.”
Johnson keeps a low profile and hasn’t opened up much to the media since his demotion as closer, but it had to feel good to come through in a close game when the A’s needed him so bad.
“It’s so quick to jump to any conclusions on a guy,” Donaldson said. “He didn’t go out there and save 100 games the past two years for no reason. The guy is good. I think his last few outings have shown that.”
At 10-4, the A’s are tied with the Milwaukee Brewers for the best record in the majors. They are 7-1 with one game left on this nine-game, three-city trip. They’ve played two A.L. West opponents on the trip and have captured both series, and they’ve displayed some of the majors’ best pitching over their first 14 games.
On Tuesday, they showed they can get things done when all doesn’t go according to script. But there’s no use figuring out whom to focus the attention on, because so many players are worthy of it.
It seems to be the A’s preferred course of action.