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April 16, 2013
Peterson flashes leather in debut, rescues Griffin in A's 4-3 win

OAKLAND -- Shane Peterson admitted this wasn't how he envisioned his hitting line in his major-league debut: 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. And yet pitcher A.J. Griffin said he thought Peterson was the "player of the game" in the A's 4-3 win over the Astros at the Coliseum on Tuesday night. And Eric Sogard, who had three hits, was left talking about how Peterson made the "biggest play of the game."

The play came in the top of the third, with Griffin struggling uncharacteristically with his command and the Astros looking to build on a 2-0 lead. With the bases loaded and two outs, Rick Ankiel yanked a pitch down the first-base line that appeared headed for the right-field corner. Had it gotten there, it might have cleared the bases. Instead, Peterson, playing first base in Brandon Moss' absence, dove to his left and made a backhand stab of the ball, robbing Ankiel and ending the inning.

"They had something brewing right there," Griffin said. "He came up huge and we got the momentum back in our dugout. So that was a huge play."

The A's eventually took a 3-2 lead, saw it erased on Carlos Pena's home run off Sean Doolittle in the eighth, and then wrested it back on Josh Donaldson's RBI triple in the bottom of the eighth. Peterson flew out to strand Donaldson on third. But he had already left his impact on the game.

Moss left the team to be with his wife for the birth of their second child Tuesday and Peterson came up from Triple-A Sacramento, where he had made one start at first base this season. He played one game at first base all of last season. Mostly Peterson had patrolled the outfield, including all of spring training.

"He looked like a natural over there," said manager Bob Melvin, who added Peterson will be in the lineup again for the series finale Wednesday.

Peterson said he didn't think until after the game about the importance of the play, doing so only when teammates commented on it. At the time, he said, Griffin simply "put his arm around me and gave me a little punch in the gut."

"That was the play of the game for me," Griffin said. "Not to take anything away from Donaldson's triple in the eighth, but that play's huge. It kept us in the game and it made it so I was able to go out and continue pitching."

* Indeed, Griffin was teetering. He had walked three of the first five hitters he faced, an early indication something wasn't right for a pitcher who normally abuses the strike zone. Griffin threw nine consecutive balls to begin the second inning, though neither of the walks scored. He had set a career-high with his fourth walk by the third inning.

In the third, Marwin Gonzalez doubled, Jose Altuve singled and Justin Maxwell singled to drive in Gonzalez. Two batters later, Chris Carter lined a curveball into center to drive in Altuve. Carlos Pena then walked to load the bases with one out, and Griffin struck out J.D. Martinez to bring up Ankiel and set up Peterson's dive.

"First few innings I was trying to keep the ball down and I was kind of yanking the ball a little bit," Griffin said. "Bob, after that third inning, he came up to me and said, hey, you're good, just do what makes you good and just go after guys.

"That little boost right there of confidence helped me go out there and just attack the zone more. And it kind of turned the page."

Griffin didn't allow another runner. He retired the final 11 hitters he faced, including six by strikeout. That Griffin was able to go six innings was crucial, as Melvin admitted after the game he "didn't have enough to cover" an early exit by Griffin with a couple relievers off-limits.

"Sometimes a starter just has to wear it or figure it out," Melvin said. "And he figured it out."

* Griffin departed in line for the win until Pena's homer in the eighth. Pena hit a 1-1 fastball from Doolittle for his first home run of the season, and the first run allowed in seven appearances by Doolittle. Opposing hitters had been 2-for-21 against Doolittle before the at-bat. Doolittle said he didn't think the pitch was a mistake, and indeed it appeared Pena simply beat an outside fastball by staying on it and driving it the other way.

* The opposite-field approach worked for Donaldson as well in the bottom of the inning. Donaldson hit his first career walk-off homer last Friday with a shot to right field against the Tigers. With two out and Josh Reddick on first in the eighth, he fell behind Astros reliever Rhiner Cruz, then sliced a two-strike, 96 mph fastball down the right-field line that dropped just out of the reach of Ankiel's dive.

Donaldson legged out a triple, the third of the game for the A's. It matched the franchise record for a game, last done in 2002 against Detroit. Donaldson said he went up looking for a pitch to drive, but, "Once I got to two strikes, it's a situation I have to really focus on letting the ball get a little deeper."

"He's maturing to the point where he's not trying to hit a home run to left field all the time in those situations," Melvin said. "They're going to make you work and hit a ball the other way, and we've seen him do it several times now."

* Another of the triples belonged to Sogard, who had a career-high three hits and fell a home run short of the cycle. He was standing in the on-deck circle when Peterson made the final out of the eighth.

Sogard tripled off Astros starter Brad Peacock in the third inning and doubled and later scored off Peacock in the fifth. He added a single in the seventh against left-handed reliever Dallas Keuchel.

"Looks like the spring training Sogard, the guy who got a hit every time up," Melvin said.

Sogard hit .444 in spring training but was 8-for-34 with one extra-base hit and six strikeouts prior to Tuesday. He said he's "continuing to get more comfortable up there. I've been seeing balls well." Melvin said Sogard had a good batting practice session Tuesday, "and you can tell sometimes that, one game, it clicks."

-- 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.
Email: mkawahara@sacbee.com.
Phone: (916) 321-1015.
On Twitter: @matthewkawahara.

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