Shoddy defense, a leaky bullpen and struggles in close games left the Athletics with the worst record in the American League at the All-Star break.
To be able to overcome those problems and come up with a 3-2 win over the Minnesota Twins on Saturday night feels like a good omen for the American League cellar-dwellers.
Stephen Vogt hit a game-ending single in the 10th inning, and the A’s rallied after blowing a lead in the ninth.
“That’s huge for a team, especially us because we haven’t done that recently,” said Scott Kazmir, who took a shutout bid into the ninth. “To be able to start up the second half and be able to get a win like that, I feel like we can carry that over to the next couple of games or maybe the next couple of series.”
After the teams were held to one run on a solo homer by Billy Butler in the first eight innings behind sharp pitching from Kazmir and Phil Hughes, the game opened up late.
The Twins took the lead with two runs in the top of the ninth — only to squander it when pinch-hitter Jake Smolinski tied it in the bottom half to give Glen Perkins his first blown save of the season.
The A’s then won it in the 10th. Billy Burns legged out a double against Casey Fein (2-4) then stole third.
“I’m not going to just send (Burns) on that pitch,” manager Bob Melvin said. “He’s got a green light, but he has got to get the right pitch to go and he did. I mean, it’s a pretty gutsy move right there. It was a close play, but when you’re a base stealer like that and you get in a situation where you can get to third with less than two outs, it certainly puts us in a great position to win the game.”
Vogt followed with a clean single to left to give Oakland its second walk-off win of the season.
“This team is resilient and picks each other up no matter what happens,” Vogt said. “A win like tonight can propel us to play the way we know how to play for a while.”
Drew Pomeranz (4-3) pitched the 10th for the victory.
Perkins retired the first two batters in the bottom of the ninth before Brett Lawrie reached on an infield single. Lawrie advanced on a wild pitch and scored the tying run on Smolinski’s bloop single to left field. Perkins had converted all 28 save chances this season.
“It was bound to happen,” Perkins said. “I’ve said all along I’m going to blow a save. I’m going to blow more than one. I’ve got to be able to bounce back.”
Kazmir came within two outs of his first shutout in more than nine years. He escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the first and then faced the minimum over the next seven innings.
Oakland’s major league-worst 85th error of the season then helped fuel a Minnesota rally in the ninth. With one out, Brian Dozier hit a grounder to third base. Lawrie went to his left to field the ball, spun and threw wildly to first, allowing Dozier to reach second on a hit and an error.
Tyler Clippard came in and hit Torii Hunter with an 0-2 pitch before Joe Mauer tied the game with a double. Miguel Sano followed with a sacrifice fly to score pinch-runner Shane Robinson with the go-ahead run.
Kazmir allowed one run and five hits in 8 1/3 innings and lowered his ERA to 2.38 on the season. He impressed the several scouts on hand from teams that could be interested in acquiring Kazmir from the last-place A’s before the trade deadline at the end of the month.
“There was never really a stressful moment after the first inning,” Vogt said. “He was some kind of good.”
Switch-pitcher Pat Venditte (strained right shoulder) threw a bullpen session — 30 pitches from the right side, 20 from the left.
Former Oakland pitcher Tommy Milone (5-1) will make his first career start against the A’s in the finale of the three-game series.
The A’s will look to reverse their struggles against lefty starters when they face Milone. They have won just five of 22 games started by southpaws this season, the worst record in the majors. Jesse Chavez (4-9) looks to snap a three-start losing streak.