ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It’s rare that Danny Valencia gets to play in front of loved ones.
Fittingly, the A’s third baseman delivered one of the most memorable weekends any A’s hitter has had in a while.
He became the first Oakland player to have a three-homer game in nearly three years Sunday, including a game-winning blast that capped a 7-6 come-from-behind win over the Rays. Valencia did so with his parents in the seats at Tropicana Field after they made the 3 1/2-hour drive north from their home in Boca Raton for the weekend.
“It’s a pretty cool experience for them. They don’t get to see me too much,” said Valencia, who was born in Miami. “I’m sure they’re thrilled driving back home right now.”
Thanks to Valencia, the A’s were primed for a pleasant trip home themselves. Down to their final out Sunday, Billy Burns doubled off Steve Geltz in the ninth and Valencia followed with his third homer of the game, a first-pitch blast that went sailing deep over the wall in left-center.
Just like that, a 6-5 deficit became a 7-6 lead, and the A’s took two of three from the Rays to close out what was otherwise a disappointing 3-6 road trip. Valencia’s heroics were dramatic, timely, and to hear Stephen Vogt tell it, a bit predictable by the time the ninth inning rolled around.
“The feeling in our dugout was, ‘He’s gonna hit another one,’” Vogt said. “It wasn’t like ‘Ah, I hope he hits another one.’ It was, ‘He’s hitting another one.’ He’s the kind of guy that brings that to the table. The confidence he exudes, the confidence he has, and confidence we have in him, it all shines through.”
[INSTANT REPLAY: Valencia homers three times, saves A's, Gray]
Valencia joined the Royals’ Lorenzo Cain, the Brewers’ Aaron Hill and the Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen as the only major leaguers with three-homer games this season. But he was the first Athletic to do it since Josh Reddick on Aug. 9, 2013 at Toronto. Including his two homers Friday, he became just the third player in A’s franchise history to homer five times in a three-game series. Mark McGwire did it three times and Gus Zernial did it back in 1951 for the Philadelphia Athletics.
To think that Valencia had a zero in the home run column, and just three RBI, when the series began. He missed 14 games after straining his left hamstring April 20 against the Yankees, then missed two more leading into the Rays series after aggravating that injury. After Valencia’s big game Friday, manager Bob Melvin moved him back into the cleanup spot, which is where Valencia was hitting before his original injury. He actually batted third Sunday with Reddick not in the lineup.
Valencia is now hitting .342, which would rank him fourth in the American League if he had enough at-bats to qualify. Should he get his power and run production cranking on a regular basis, it would be a nice lift for the A’s, who began the day with the league’s third lowest slugging percentage at .379.
“I know he’s been itching to get back,” Vogt said. “… He’s our middle-of-the-order guy.”
Valencia drilled a 3-2 changeup from lefty Matt Moore for a solo shot in the first. In the fifth, Moore jumped ahead of him 0-2 before Valencia hammered a 94 mile-per-hour fastball to left of a two-run homer that pulled the A’s to within 5-4. He stepped to the plate in the ninth looking to be aggressive early, and he pulled the trigger on a first-pitch fastball from Geltz and hit a go-ahead two-run shot to left-center to complete his five-RBI day.
“They’d been pitching me kind of in, so I’d been kind of setting my sights on the middle-in parts of the plate,” Valencia said. “He missed over. I think they were trying to set up away.”
Asked to describe how he felt at the plate throughout his storybook weekend, Valencia kept it succinct.
“Some type of way. Some good type of way.”