SAN DIEGO – Thanks to Billy Burns’ defense Tuesday, A’s left-hander Scott Kazmir didn’t suffer a first-inning dent to his ERA.
There won’t be any dents to his bank account either.
After his last start, Kazmir bought Burns a Louis Vuitton bag as a reward for two outstanding catches the center fielder made against Texas. So there was Burns, playing the defensive wiz again in the A’s 6-5 win Tuesday over the Padres. He raced back to the wall in the first and made a home run-saving catch to rob Justin Upton, a leaping grab worthy of another pricey gift.
This time, Burns let his teammate off the hook.
“I was joking before the game, telling Sam Fuld, ‘If there’s a ball hit in the gap, I’m going for it’. Just as a joke because Kaz is on the mound,” Burns said. “And so I ran in and told Kaz, ‘You don’t have to buy me anything.’ And he gave me a high-five.”
That was just the opening act from Burns on a day the rookie found numerous ways to torment the Padres. He hit a go-ahead two-run triple to right-center in the fifth. After San Diego tied the game, 5-5, with two runs in the bottom of the eighth off Evan Scribner, Burns reclaimed Oakland’s lead in the ninth with his more conventional methods. He worked a two-out walk against Padres closer Craig Kimbrel, then stole his 13th base and scored from second on Eric Sogard’s single up the middle.
Burns, 25, began this season as a backup outfielder who only made the Opening Night roster because of injuries to Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick. He’s emerged as a serious American League Rookie of the Year candidate, impacting the game in ways beyond his speed and base-running skills.
“He just gets better and better,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Defensively, we're seeing significant strides from when he got here. And he gets on base and creates havoc. He's locked down the leadoff spot for us. … You know, when we had him here originally, we really didn't envision him staying that long. All he's done is perform.”
Not that Burns provided the only entertainment as the A’s ran their winning streak to three and posted their first winning road trip (3-2) since June of last season.
Kazmir, a 2-for-23 career hitter as he stepped to the plate in the fifth, lined an RBI single down the left-field line that got the A’s on the scoreboard and cut San Diego’s lead to 2-1. It was the first hit and RBI by an Oakland pitcher since Tommy Milone accomplished both on June 3, 2013.
Kazmir, who borrowed one of Stephen Vogt’s bats, gave an emphatic arm pump toward his dugout as he stood at first base.
“Going nuts,” is how Sogard described the dugout. “I think some pitchers had some bets going about who can get a hit.”
Then Burns stepped up and split the right-center gap with a two-run triple. Sam Fuld scored easily, but Kazmir – battling a stomach bug Tuesday – was on fumes as he rounded third.
Burns smiled when asked if he thought he could have tried for an inside-the-park homer if his pitcher wasn’t chugging around the bases ahead of him.
“I don’t want to throw him under the bus, but when I was rounding second, I could tell he hadn’t rounded third yet,” Burns said.
It was more non-pitching activity than Kazmir bargained for, especially on a day he wasn’t feeling great.
“I just didn’t want him to be right behind me and pass me up,” Kazmir said of Burns. “Once I saw that ball go past (Matt) Kemp, it just seemed like it was an endless run to get to home plate.”
Ben Zobrist had a two-run homer to give the A’s a 5-3 lead. Evan Scribner gave up his third homer in his past two outings as Matt Kemp’s solo shot tied it in the eighth. But the A’s prevailed, and it was no surprise that Burns was instrumental in the winning rally.
“I think the most impressive thing is how much he’s progressed since the beginning of the season,” Kazmir said. “A young guy like that being able to make the adjustments that quick at this level, that’s pretty cool to see.”