The A’s appeared to be in a world of hurt Saturday when their starting pitcher surprisingly got ejected in the second inning.
Rather than fold, they rallied. The result was a 6-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians that not only illustrated the A’s pitching depth but also their ability to brush off adversity.
Manager Bob Melvin had to call on his bullpen early after Scott Kazmir was shown the exit by home plate umpire Jerry Layne for arguing balls and strikes with one out in the second.
Enter reliever Dan Otero, who saved the day with 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief to stabilize things and allow Melvin to conserve his bullpen usage. Then the middle of the Oakland’s batting order flexed its muscle as Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss drove in all six runs between them, and the A’s won for the eighth time in the past nine games.
In doing so, they moved to a season-best 11 games over .500 (27-16) and increased their American League West lead to four games, pending the Los Angeles Angels’ result Saturday night.
Starting pitching report
A run was in off Kazmir in the second when he thought he had a called strike three on Jesus Aguilar. Home plate umpire Jerry Layne called the 3-2 pitch a ball, then Kazmir started jawing at him. Layne gestured toward the mound, seemingly warning Kazmir, then quickly gave him the thumb right after that.
It was a fast – and unexpected -- reaction from Layne. And Melvin shot out of the dugout and gave Layne an earful. The 1 1/3-inning stint was the shortest start of Kazmir’s career, and left some major work for his relief corps to handle.
Otero, the closest thing the A’s have to a long reliever right now, got all the time he needed to warm up in the second. He proceeded to pitch all the way through the fifth. He gave up four hits but induced three inning-ending ground ball double plays to allow himself to stay in so long. The Indians got a run off Fernando Abad in the sixth to close the gap to 3-2. But Luke Gregerson followed up with two shutout innings, striking out three, and Sean Doolittle shut the door in the ninth.
It was a great night for a bullpen that has endured some rough moments so far in 2014.
At the plate
It was a comedic scene on the field in the top of the third as a squirrel got loose on the field, delaying play for a bit. Funny enough, the A’s rallied right after that episode, putting up three runs to assume a 3-1 lead. Brandon Moss had a two-run homer to highlight the rally. Donaldson also knocked in a run with a single. In the seventh, Donaldson added a two-run triple and Moss doubled home another.
In the field
The Indians entered the night leading the majors in errors, and shaky defense bit them in this one. It appeared Coco Crisp had hit into an inning-ending double play in the seventh, but Aguilar dropped an easy throw at first from shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and extended Oakland’s at-bat. After pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo walked, Josh Donaldson delivered a two-run triple that came within inches of leaving the park. That extended a 3-2 lead to 5-2 for the A’s.
The A’s and Indians wrap up a three-game set Sunday at 10:05 a.m., as Jesse Chavez (3-1, 2.44) opposes Justin Masterson (2-2, 4.31).