OAKLAND – On a bizarre night that could have easily gone sideways for the A’s, they were fortunate to have their rock of stability on the mound.
That would be Scott Kazmir, who, for fair reasons, seemed to be somewhat of a question mark when he arrived at spring training.
Instead, the first-year Athletic has been both a dominant and steadying figure in the starting rotation. Nothing epitomized that like Saturday’s 5-1 victory over the New York Yankees, which was halted 38 minutes in the fourth inning by a circuit breaker outage that knocked out a bank of lights above the left field seats.
The bizarre interruption could have thrown Kazmir off his game. But he kept his focus and completed six innings of three-hit ball and would have stayed in longer if not for the mid-game intermission. The lefty improved to 8-2 and lowered his ERA to 2.05, second in the American League behind the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka (2.02).
Most tellingly, the A’s are 12-2 in his 14 starts. After Friday night’s lackluster 7-0 defeat, a big performance was needed. Kazmir once again delivered.
“I think it’s big for any one of our starters, even if it’s just one loss the day before or a couple, to be that stopper,” Kazmir said. “To go out there and throw up zeroes and give us a chance to win the ballgame.”
Kazmir was coming off a stellar season for Cleveland in 2013, but before that he had been pitching in independent league ball while rediscovering his mechanics. When the A’s signed him to a two-year $22 million contract in December, it was no sure thing what kind of starter they’d be getting. But Kazmir sports a 1.44 ERA over his last seven starts, holding opponents to one run or fewer in five of those. Asked if this is the best stretch of his career, the two-time All-Star answered frankly.
“Yeah, overall for sure,” Kazmir said. “Stuff-wise, consistency … I would say this is the best I’ve felt.”
The A’s complemented his performance with some welcome offense on a night where another comedic chapter was added to the Coliseum’s recent history of odd events. There have been well-publicized sewage issues, flooded dugouts and, earlier this season, a rainout when it wasn’t raining.
On Saturday, a portion of lights went out. Or, as some noted, they never came on from the time the 7:05 p.m. game began with the sun still out.
“They were never on,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi told New York reporters, “which makes me question why someone didn't notice who is here every day.”
After the top of the fourth, A’s vice president of stadium operations David Rinetti took the field to talk with the umpires, and play was halted as the breaker needed to be reset manually in the left field light tower, according to the A’s official Twitter account.
“That’s the Coliseum for ya,” second baseman Eric Sogard said. “That’s kinda what we expect out of it. But it’s why we love this place. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
But the A’s have known what to expect from Kazmir, 30, who looks like a strong bet to be an All-Star at this rate.
He had allowed just an unearned run through four innings Saturday when play was halted. He ducked inside the clubhouse to keep warm, and when the delay hit the 30-minute mark he went out to the bullpen and threw what he described as a simulated inning that was perfectly timed with the lights coming back on and play resuming.
Kazmir is used to having his routine interrupted. It was his start at Yankee Stadium on June 3 when Oakland and New York were delayed at the start more than an hour because of rain. Back in April, he had his first start of the season pushed back a day because of a rainout at home against Cleveland.
“This year I’ve had the privilege of having some long (delays), so I’ve got a little bit of practice,” he said.
That’s a rational take from a guy who’s come up big when the A’s have needed him most.
“Mentally you’ve got to stay with it” during a long delay, A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “It’s tough when you’re sitting around that long and it’s cold, and to have to go out there and find that adrenaline again, it’s very impressive.”