OAKLAND – Some victories carry more weight than others, if not in the standings then at least psychologically.
The smile on Scott Kazmir’s face Sunday provided the evidence.
The Los Angeles Angels have had the number of the A’s left-hander, and they let their former teammate know it. Getting his first crack at them in 2015, Kazmir changed the tone on that narrative, showing top form over 7 1/3 innings in a 3-2 victory that wasn’t cinched until a white-knuckle ending at the Coliseum.
Tyler Clippard retired Johnny Giavotella on a deep fly that Sam Fuld caught at the left field wall, and with that, Kazmir notched his first win over the Angels since 2008. He came in with a 7.56 ERA against Los Angeles, including losses in back-to-back outings last season in which he was bombarded for 13 earned runs over just 4 1/3 total innings.
“Last year was tough,” Kazmir said. “After back-to-back outings like that against those guys, I’ve been chomping at the bit to get another shot at them. It feels a little bit more, I guess you could say special, being able to pitch the way I did today against that team. Knowing some of the guys, as much as they heckled me the past year or so, it felt good.”
Major leaguers get heckled by fans constantly. It’s less often you hear about it coming from the opposing dugout. Kazmir was traded from the Rays to the Angels in August 2009 and pitched for them until being released in June 2011, as injuries and ineffectiveness sent his career on a detour.
Kazmir heard it from his former teammates as they knocked him around last season. And though the smile on his face as he recalled the heckling suggests it was good-natured, it’s also clear that it stuck with the lefty.
“Just a couple guys that have been there,” Kazmir said. “(Erick) Aybar’s the No. 1 guy. Great guy … He just ended up getting me a couple times. They had a lot of ammo, so I’m glad to get this one.”
Some tweaking of the rotation prevented Kazmir from facing the Angels until Sunday, though the A’s never stated that was the reason for it. At any rate, he was dialed in before a Father’s Day crowd of 29,137 at the Coliseum.
He changed speeds on his fastball, and his changeup was effective. But he also established his cutter inside to right-handers, and that helped greatly according to Kazmir and catcher Stephen Vogt.
Aybar came in 6-for-8 lifetime against Kazmir. He singled in three at-bats off him but was not a factor.
“There’s no rhyme or reason” for a team to have a pitcher’s number, Vogt said. “You just never know. But for him, I think it was extra special. … He came out and gave that performance despite all the stuff that people talk about (with him facing the Angels). He came out and gave us a chance.”
Clippard, no doubt, will savor Monday’s day off. After throwing 28 pitches in Saturday’s four-out save, he threw 34 Sunday in a five-out save. The bullpen’s struggles maintaining late-inning leads is well documented, and manager Bob Melvin stuck with Kazmir for a season-high 112 pitches before calling on Clippard.
When Albert Pujols hit a two-run homer off Clippard in the eighth to trim a 3-0 lead to 3-2, Melvin wasn’t going to fool around calling on someone else for the ninth.
“Once I’m in the game and I’m hot, I wanna finish it. That’s my job,” Clippard said. “… It’s not something I’m gonna be able to do a lot. But if I can do that, especially in these kind of games, and we need wins right now, I’m happy to do it.”
Melvin knows he can’t push his closer for that much that often.
“That’s a very difficult thing to do, and I probably won't ask him to do that again this year,” Melvin said.
Then the manager smiled.
“I said probably.”