OAKLAND – Metallica music blared, the crowd got loud, and ninth-inning business got handled Monday in the way the A’s had always envisioned.
On an afternoon where no amount of offense seemed enough, Sean Doolittle restored order by notching his first save of 2015 in a 10-9 victory over the Houston Astros. It took just five pitches – all fastballs – for Doolittle to complete a 1-2-3 inning and show he’s ready to resume his role as the A’s closer.
“They didn’t tell me what scenario I was gonna pitch,” Doolittle said. “I just told them I’d be ready. That’s just the way it worked out. I’m still shaking. It was really awesome.”
What a welcome sight it was for a last-place team that’s been haunted this season by countless blown leads and one-run losses. And it seemed the A’s might be headed down that path again after seeing an 8-2 lead cut to 8-6 and a 10-6 advantage shaved to 10-9.
Doolittle, making just his seventh appearance of the season because of left shoulder injuries, hit 94 on the radar gun and finished with a game-ending strikeout of Astros cleanup man Carlos Gomez.
“It’s exciting. I’m happy for him,” outfielder Coco Crisp said. “He’s a big part of our team. We need him out there. To see him up there throwing 94-95, that makes you feel good. You’re confident out in the outfield that the job is gonna get done.”
When it came to long-time Athletics who got reacquainted with the limelight Monday, Crisp shared top billing with Doolittle. The veteran was called upon to pinch hit with the bases loaded in the sixth inning of a 2-2 game, and he banged a two-run double off the right field wall. That ushered in a six-run rally as the A’s batted around and took a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Crisp, 35, has been dogged by chronic neck pain, hip and ankle injuries that have limited him to just 33 games. He’s been a shell of his past self when he has been in the lineup, bringing a .167 batting average into Monday. His two-run hit actually doubled his season RBI output (2) for the entire season.
Because of Crisp’s injuries, manager Bob Melvin is using him off the bench. He’s now delivered three pinch-hit singles and a pinch-hit double in his past four games.
“We know we’re limited in how we can use him,” Melvin said. “We’ve discussed how we’re gonna use him and he’s ready for those situations.”
As Crisp stepped to the plate with the score tied in the sixth, the crowd cranked up the noise considerably for a player who’s come through in many such situations in the past when healthy.
“They got loud, didn’t they?” Crisp said. “Yeah, I felt that. When there’s nobody out there in the stands, it’s a dead ballgame. It feels like you’re playing American Legion ball or something back in high school. When it’s loud and it gets electric, you definitely can feed off that.”
Doolittle has done the same in the past. And he’s increasingly looked stronger in six appearances since his last DL stint ended Aug. 22. Monday marked the first time this season he’s pitched on back-to-back days, and he said he alerted the coaching staff that he felt good upon arriving Monday morning. He was pleased to be told the “training wheels” were coming off.
“I feel back,” Doolittle said. “… I can go out there with no restrictions, no second thoughts in my head. I can do it on back-to-back days. Moving forward, it’s really big for me, mentally, to finish this season strong and have somewhat of a normal offseason and have a handle on where I stand, what I need to work on.”