ANAHEIM – As the innings ticked away Monday night, John Jaso was doing what he always does in preparing for a possible pinch-hitting assignment.
The A’s catcher takes a minimalist approach to pinch hitting, and in the Jaso-friendly confines of Angel Stadium, that works just fine. He added another Anaheim memory to his scrapbook with a dramatic two-run homer in the top of the ninth that lifted Oakland to a 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Angels.
“I don’t really do anything,” Jaso explained. “It’s just like, ‘Jaso, go grab a bat.’ My hat’s on backward or somethng like that. I don’t know. I try not to think about things too much. I just go up there and hit the ball as hard as I can.”
Just a short drive from Disneyland, Angel Stadium has become Jaso’s Happiest Place on Earth over the years. He’s a career .424 hitter (28 for 66) with six home runs and 22 RBI in 20 games at the ballpark. He attended Southwestern College in Chula Vista, about 90 minutes down Highway 5, and always has lots of family in the stands for Angels games.
Last April, he hit a pinch-hit three run homer off Los Angeles reliever Kevin Jepsen in a 9-5 A’s victory. He was expecting offspeed on a 1-2 count Monday, but he instead got a fastball from Ernesto Frieri and pounded it into the seats in right field to erase a 2-1 deficit. Oakland had just five hits through the first eight innings.
“For a guy that’s pretty passive in his approach and walks a lot, he knows in a pinch-hit situation that you have to be aggressive,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “And he was from the first pitch.”
Second baseman Eric Sogard, who also was out of the lienup against Angels left-handed starter Hector Santiago, knew he might also be a pinch-hit option in the ninth. Sogard was down in the visitor’s clubhouse, stretching and doing his full pregame routine to limber up.
Jaso? Well, he wasn’t.
“That’s Jaso,” Sogard said. “I find it amazing that I need to get a full body stretch to get ready. But that’s his mentality. He’s so relaxed. He can sit on the bench for eight innings, get up and hit a game-winning homer.”
If you’re thinking offensive production from the A’s, the catcher position isn’t the first that comes to mind. But earlier on the road trip, Derek Norris – after entering the game in the ninth – smacked a three-run homer that powered an 11-inning win at Minnesota. Melvin has confidence in what his catchers can do, and he mentioned Triple-A backstop Stephen Vogt as part of the group.
“We’re lucky, at a time where it appears that there’s not a whole lot of catching out there (available), to have three guys like we do.”
Aside from Jaso’s homer and a solo shot from Yoenis Cespedes, the A’s looked dismal against Santiago, who fashioned a 7.71 ERA through his first two starts. Oakland has not been a good hitting team against lefties this season, and they get another one Wednesday in Tyler Skaggs and will see more over the weekend against Houston.
They’ll need more production against southpaws. Once again, A’s starter Jesse Chavez (7 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 9 K’s) pitched well enough to win and did not get rewarded. Demoted closer Jim Johnson did, pitching a scoreless eighth to register his first victory as an Athletic.
The A’s also were aided by an instant replay review that went their way in the bottom of the ninth. Howie Kendrick was called out on a bang-bang play at first with one out. The call was upheld, to the agitation of the home crowd, and Luke Gregerson finished off a 1-2-3 inning.
In the end, it went the A’s way, as have most things during what is so far a 6-1 road trip. Chavez, though he didn’t get the ‘W’, was impressed at his teammates’ comeback.
“It’s a show of our character,” he said. “We don’t give up 1 through 9, and we don’t give up 1 through 25 (on the roster).”