Suzuki: Being back at Coliseum 'very special'
Kurt Suzuki was all smiles after his fifth inning home run in his first game back in Oakland in over a year. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
The feel-good ingredients were there for the A’s on Friday, courtesy of Kurt Suzuki’s three-run homer in his return to the Coliseum before an adoring crowd.
All of it wouldn’t have mattered, however, if the home team hadn’t nailed down an important victory to wipe away some nasty memories from the day before.
Jed Lowrie came through with the clutch go-ahead hit in the eighth inning. Grant Balfour nailed down the save after he blew a three-run lead Thursday in Detroit.
It all came together for a 4-3 Oakland victory over the Tampa Bay Rays that felt a lot like the nail-biting wins of 2012 that pulled the A’s together and led to a division title.
Yes, the A’s had just taken three of four from a powerful Detroit Tigers team. But with the manner in which they lost that game – on a three-run walkoff homer by Torii Hunter off Balfour – the last thing they needed was another come-from-ahead defeat.
It appeared that might be in the cards after the Rays rallied for two runs in the top of the eighth to wipe out a 3-1 deficit. But the A’s answered back and notched the ‘W’ in the opener of this three-game series between A.L. wild card leaders.
As important as their offensive breakout was against the Tigers, it was just as important that the A’s bounced back from adversity and pulled out a close one like this after Thursday’s heartbreaker.
Balfour, furious at himself a day earlier, entered in the ninth determined not to let another one slip through his fingers. He allowed a one-out walk but slammed the door.
“It’s great,” Lowrie said afterward. “It’s great for Balf’s confidence, getting right back out on the mound and getting thrust in this situation and do what he’s done all year. He threw the ball great tonight. Maybe he had a chip on his shoulder.”
Nobody enjoyed the victory more than Suzuki, the longtime A’s catcher who was re-acquired last week after Oakland shipped him to Washington last August.
A fan favorite through his first five-plus seasons with the A’s, he received a big ovation when he dug in for his first at-bat. Then the crowd went wild in the fifth, when he crushed the first pitch from David Price for a three-run homer, his first since his return.
“You couldn’t make that stuff up,” right-hander Jarrod Parker said. “Its’ awesome.”
Parker, the American League’s ERA leader for August, admitted he didn’t have his best stuff. But after two walks and a run in the second, he held Tampa Bay scoreless until he left in the eighth, although the tying runs that Ryan Cook surrendered were charged to him.
Parker credited Suzuki not only for his bat but for his game-calling.
“He’s huge to us, not only for his on-field stuff but in here, for our staff,” Parker said. “He’s big for us, a pickup at this point of the year. It makes the game-plan almost thoughtless when you have someone back there who knows the hitters and knows the league.”
Suzuki got his first chance to run through the A’s homer tunnel, the congratulatory dugout sprint that a hitter makes after going deep. That’s a touch that’s been added since he was traded last season.
“That’s pretty cool,” he said. “I saw it on TV all the time.”
It was even better experiencing it in a victory. The A’s pulled into the top wild card spot, a half-game ahead of Tampa Bay.
“(Thursday) was definitely a heartbreaker, but that’’s baseball,” Suzuki said. “…We moved forward and pull out a win.”