OAKLAND — Hours before his big moment Friday, Oakland Athletics center fielder Ramón Laureano purposely didn’t envision what it would be like to play in his first-ever MLB game. He didn’t want to add pressure.
So, he had done little mental preparation when he stepped up against Detroit Tigers reliever Buck Farmer with two outs and runners on first and second in the 13th inning. He had not considered this situation, which brought the Coliseum crowd to its feet.
Laureano took a first-pitch slider for a strike, then chased a breaking ball as it dove out of the zone. He told himself to relax, to not go after another bad pitch. He didn’t swing at the next one, which cut low for a ball.
On the fourth offering of the at-bat — another slider — Laureano drove a walk-off single to right-center field, bringing home left fielder Nick Martini to give the A’s a 1-0 win. His teammates stormed the field to celebrate. Later, he would be hit with shaving cream, tomato juice and beer. It was like nothing he could have dreamed up anyway, not after being called up earlier in the afternoon.
“I’m shocked,” Laureano said. “I’m speechless. It’s awesome, I mean I could have never imagined it this way.”
Before his game-winning hit, Laureano threw out Jose Iglesias in the top of the 13th, as the Tigers shortstop tried to take an extra base on an overthrow by catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Oakland has now won four straight and 10 of 14 games since the All-Star break. With a Seattle Mariners loss, the A’s are now 1 1/2 games ahead in the race for the second AL Wild Card.
“The guy’s in his first big league game, you’re 0-for-4 … and now you’re in position where you win the game on a throw and a big hit,” manager Bob Melvin said. “This is a day he definitely will not forget.”
Since runs batted in became an official stat in 1920, Laureano is the first A’s player to have walk-off RBI hit for his first major league hit, and the first in the majors since Kyle Farmer (Los Angeles Dodgers, July 30 of last season). Laureano is also the second Dominican-born player to have a walk-off RBI hit for first major league hit (and after Alfonso Soriano did it for the Yankees on Sept. 24, 1999).
Laureano, acquired last November from the Houston Astros, had been the best hitter at Triple-A Nashville with 14 home runs and 11 stolen bases in just 64 games. He was also the Pacific Coast League leader in outfield assists (13) before being called up. His big league breakthrough marked another impressive step forward from the broken finger he suffered in spring training.
“I just tried to slow the game down and stay relaxed,” said Laureano, who, despite a reputation for plate discipline, struck out twice in his first four at-bats. “I wasn’t myself earlier in the game, but I made adjustments.”
Starter Brett Anderson kept Oakland (65-46) in the game against the Tigers. He negated Detroit starter Blaine Hardy’s impressive outing by pitching seven scoreless innings. Another stellar bullpen effort backed him up.
Anderson’s performance, which included taking a perfect game into the sixth, was somewhat unexpected given Oakland’s starting pitching struggles over the past month. Before Friday, no A’s starter had gotten through the seventh since July 4, and the rotation entered with a 4.34 season ERA.
Because Hardy matched Anderson’s effort almost step for step — not allowing a hit until second baseman Jed Lowrie’s infield single in the seventh — Anderson didn’t figure into the decision. Still, the game likely wouldn’t have been close if Anderson hadn’t pitched so well.
“It was one of the better starts I’ve had in a while,” Anderson said. “I threw the fewest breaking balls I think I’ve ever thrown in a big league start. It was kind of substituted by the inside fastball to open up the plate more for sinkers and changeups.”
Laureano then stole the show with his game-winning hit. It came months after a moment of prescience from Melvin, speaking to the 24-year-old just after he’d suffered his finger setback in spring training.
“You will be here at some point in time this year,” Melvin told him.
Laureano delivered, sending a fourth straight slider from Farmer slicing to right field to push Oakland to its fourth win in a row. The A’s are now 20-9 in one-run games this season, and lead the majors with 10 extra-inning wins.