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April 28, 2013
Céspedes' dramatic return, Sogard's mad dash cap 9-8 A's win

OAKLAND -- Sure, there's the disparity in the A's record when Yoenis Céspedes starts (now 9-2 this season) and when he doesn't (5-10). There's the fact that he protects other hitters batting in the middle of the lineup and has to be on the minds of opposing runners and base coaches with his arm in left field. But today showed why the A's spent the past few days answering questions about how much they were looking forward to having him back from the disabled list. When Céspedes steps into the batter's box, it generates an air of anticipation. And the moment is not too big for him, even when it's expectation of him that is creating it.

Céspedes hit a game-tying, two-run homer with one out in the ninth inning of the A's 9-8 win over the Baltimore Orioles this afternoon that sent the game into extra innings -- they won in 10 -- and helped the A's avoid a four-game sweep at home and a ninth loss in 10 games. It was Céspedes first game back from the 15-day DL with a strained muscle in his left hand, and his fifth at-bat of the day. In a 1-2 count, left-hander Brian Matusz threw a changeup down near the level of Céspedes' ankles, and he hit it into the bleachers in left.

"He's very impactful obviously, and that home run was kind of what he's all about," said manager Bob Melvin. "We need him in the lineup and he showed today why."

Céspedes said he was just looking to make contact with two strikes and felt he was a little early on the swing, but he knew right away where the ball was headed. It was his second hit of the day -- he singled in the sixth after striking out in his first two at-bats -- and his fourth home run of the season in 45 at-bats.

"You're in there thinking he can do it," said Coco Crisp. "He's so strong -- if you touch the guy he's a freaking rock -- anything can happen."

Of course, that's as long as he has the opportunity. In the top of the ninth, Céspedes made a full-extension dive in left-center for a Nate McLouth double, just missing an incredible catch before landing hard on the grass (he later said he thought he could have caught the ball if he was using the glove he wore last year, which was larger). Melvin said after the game the A's can't expect Céspedes to rein in his instincts even in the interest of staying in the lineup. They simply hope he'll hold up.

"We need him," said outfielder Seth Smith. "We've been in situations where good players have gone down before, but he's different. He's a different animal."

* An interesting note about Smith, who preceded Céspedes' dramatics in the ninth inning and Eric Sogard's in the 10th with a game-tying two-run homer of his own in the seventh: He said he was using Sogard's bat when he hit the home run off left-hander Troy Patton.

Smith, who has a career OPS nearly 250 points higher against right-handed pitchers than left-handers, is 9-for-18 with two home runs against lefties this season (after homering off Patton on Sunday, he struck out against Matusz in the ninth).

"I'm just trying to be a little more aggressive, that's about it," Smith said of facing lefties. "I've been seeing them well and been able to get the barrel to it. And I use Eric Sogard's bat when I face lefties."

Smith said Sogard's bat "just feels better to me -- it's a different angle to the pitches, and I feel like I'm going to get the barrel to pitches easier with his bat." He said it's also a bit lighter than the bat he uses against right-handers.

It's not exactly a "Wonderboy" situation, but it worked Sunday. Smith's homer tied the game, at 6-6, for the first time since the A's had fallen behind in a four-run fourth.

* There's plenty about the wild 10th inning in tomorrow's game story, but Sogard was notably pleased to be the recipient of his first post-game pie in the face following the A's second walk-off win of the season.

"Tasted great," said the bespectacled second baseman. "I had the eye protection, though, so it didn't get in my eyes."

Sogard singled leading off the 10th, advanced to second on Adam Rosales' sacrifice (that reliever Pedro Strop fielded and threw wildly to second, leaving everyone safe) and then sprinted for third when Crisp pushed a bunt down the third-base line.

Manny Machado fielded the bunt, wheeled and tried to force Sogard, but his wide throw carried into left. Only Sogard, diving head-first into the bag, didn't realize it at first, even with the entire A's dugout screaming at him to run and third-base coach Mike Gallego standing over him frantically waving him home.

"I couldn't really tell what was going on," Sogard said. "I was trying to read the crowd, whether I was safe or out. ... I had a little breather there for a second, which was nice."

For Sogard, maybe.

"I saw him laying there, so I was yelling at Sogard to get up and run -- and I was yelling at Gags not to touch him," Smith said. "I don't think he heard me, though."

"Slow motion's a very good word," Melvin said.

Sogard picked himself up and slid home well ahead of a wide throw from McLouth. That likely elicited some different exclamations from an A's dugout that moments before had been emptying their lungs at Sogard's sprawled figure.

"I think the whole team was, yeah," Melvin said. "Everybody was pretty frustrated with the way things have gone here recently. So I would say the whole bench was giving him some encouragement."

* Also in that 10th inning -- the decision for Crisp to bunt with runners on first and second and no outs came from Crisp. And it wasn't a straight sacrifice -- Crisp said he thought he had a good shot at bunting for a hit, and figured if he bunted foul he'd have two strikes to work with still.

"I appreciate the confidence in me to make that decision myself," Crisp said.

Melvin said he was fine with the decision not to sacrifice, even if a successful one would have moved the potential winning run to third with one out.

"He's got a really good feel, and with his speed he's not going to do it just to sacrifice," Melvin said. "As you saw he's going to try to put pressure on you with that, push it and put pressure on you with his speed. I was fine with either way."

* The outcome today nullified a couple of troubling trends that continued for the pitching staff. A's starters entered the game with opponents batting .223 against them in their first at-bats and .325 in their second, the second-highest average in baseball. And after facing the minimum through the first three innings, Bartolo Colon allowed the first five Orioles to hit safety in their four-run fourth, on four singles and a double.

Colon hypothesized that hitters are "trying to make contact, see what kind of pitches you have" in their first at-bats. In the second, "that's when they make adjustments to try to hit the ball with better contact and power." Colon threw just 75 pitches over six innings but allowed five runs on nine hits.

The A's also had more trouble delivering shutdown innings (holding opponents down in the half-inning after the Oakland offense scores), failing to do so in two of three chances today. When they needed it badly, though, they got one in the top of the 10th from Jerry Blevins, who earned the win and has now pitched in 13 of the team's first 26 games. He has not allowed a run in 11 of those appearances.

* Granted, it's still April. But after losing eight of their last nine games there was a sense among the A's that they needed this win, particularly with the way they clawed back into it several times late.

"It had the feeling (early) of the last week and a half or so," Smith said. "We've got down and then kind of gone away quietly. But it's amazing what a couple good at-bats can do for the team. Everyone kind of powered on after that."

Melvin said he wasn't thinking about a potential sweep or falling back to .500 overall "as much as we just needed a win. We needed to fight, we needed to claw back and do something good to win a game more than anything."

The Angels arrive tomorrow for a three-game series. It'll be Dan Straily (in place of Brett Anderson) vs. Tommy Hanson in the opener.

-- Matt Kawahara

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About Bay Area Baseball

Matt KawaharaMatt Kawahara was born in Sacramento and attended McClatchy High School and UC Berkeley, where he wrote for the independent student paper The Daily Californian. He graduated from Cal in 2010 and started at The Sacramento Bee as a summer intern. He joined The Bee’s sports staff in fall 2011.
Phone: (916) 321-1015.
On Twitter: @matthewkawahara.

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