BALTIMORE – He’d been away from the big league club for roughly two months, but Pat Venditte got reintroduced to the emotional knockout punches that A’s losses can deliver.
Arriving to Camden Yards shortly before first pitch Saturday night, Oakland’s ambidextrous reliever found himself taking the ball in the ninth inning of a tie game. After retiring his first two hitters, Venditte tried to go off the plate with a 2-2 curve to Chris Davis.
The Orioles’ masher flicked his bat at the low pitch and got enough to drive it to right-center for a game-winning homer, the second night in a row the A’s have been done in by a walk-off blast.
The 4-3 loss was not how Venditte envisioned his big league return going after he spent the past two months rehabbing a shoulder injury and relieving at Triple-A. He delivered four scoreless outings in his first career major league stint earlier this season, creating a buzz as the first full-time “switch pitcher” in the major leagues’ modern era.
On Saturday, he retired the left-handed hitting Gerardo Parra on a fly to right. He then threw from the right side against Adam Jones and got Baltimore’s No. 3 hitter on a grounder to third. But Davis connected for his second homer of the night and his third of this series.
“Trying to expand out of the zone,” Venditte said of the 2-2 pitch. “Obviously he’s trying to do one thing there. And I didn’t get it out far enough.”
Venditte and fellow reliever Dan Otero were recalled from Triple-A Nashville earlier in the day to provide support for an overworked bullpen. They quickly got a flavor for how rough this seven-game road trip has been so far. The A’s got swept in Toronto and have lost the first two of this four-game set to the Orioles in walk-off fashion to fall to 0-5 on the trip, after winning their final three back at home.
The A’s jumped out to a 3-0 lead Saturday with help from homers by Sam Fuld and Josh Reddick. But after they failed to capitalize on a one-out, bases-loaded situation in the fifth while leading 3-2, was there any doubt this one was headed for heartbreak?
The A’s dropped to 13-27 in one-run games, a .325 winning percentage that puts them well on pace to break Oakland’s record for lowest one-run winning percentage in a season (.381 in 1980). They are 7-16 in games decided in a team’s last at-bat.
“It feels like a bit of a nightmare that won’t end,” Fuld said. “It’s tough to lose games like this.”
Fuld provided a spark both with his homer and an outstanding catch in the seventh, when he caught Steve Clevenger’s drive to the left field corner on a dead run, then got the ball in to double-off Jonathan Schoop at first.
That play boosted A’s starter Chris Bassitt, who impressed again in throwing a career-high eight innings and allowing three runs on five hits. The rookie lasted 103 pitches despite battling light-headedness throughout the game. He took in fluids while trainers applied ice packs in between innings, but said he kept feeling “overheated.”
Venditte faced his own challenges Saturday, but they were tied to his travel itinerary. He and Otero flew out of Des Moines, Iowa in the morning but then got delayed approximately four hours during a layover in Detroit. Power outages at Baltimore/Washington International Airport delayed flights coming in from everywhere.
Venditte and Otero arrived at Camden about 6:15 local time for the 7:05 first pitch, but Venditte emphasized that his rough day of travel had nothing to do with what happened in the ninth.
The left-handed hitting Davis has been on a power-hitting tear, mashing a major league-best 15 homers in 27 games since the All-Star break. His 34 homers overall trail Nelson Cruz by just one for the lead.
A’s manager Bob Melvin had no reservations about pitching to Davis with two outs and nobody on in the ninth, pointing out that Venditte had a two-strike count on him and was trying to get him to chase.
“The pitch that Pat threw him was a pretty good pitch, off the plate away,” Melvin said. “He ended up one-handing it out of the park.”