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September 18, 2013
Donaldson walk-off hit with bases loaded, where he has thrived

OAKLAND -- Before Josh Donaldson stepped to the plate in the ninth inning Tuesday, he was 7-for-10 on the season with 15 RBIs batting with the bases loaded. He's now 8-for-11 in those situations -- a .727 average -- with his latest hit giving the A's a walkoff 2-1 win over the Angels that moved them one step closer to clinching a playoff spot.

Donaldson lined an 0-2 fastball from Michael Kohn into right- center with two outs to score Jemile Weeks from third, after Kohn had struck out Daric Barton with the Angels playing a fifth infielder in a bases-loaded, one-out situation.

Donaldson recalled facing Kohn earlier in the year, when "he threw me a lot of fastballs and kind of blew it past me every time. Tonight I was trying to read dead-red heater."

After swinging through a fastball at 96 mph and fouling another at 96 over the backstop, Donaldson hit a 95 mph offering for his third career walk-off hit. All three have come this season, and Donaldson credited a more patient approach in pressure at-bats.

"I think a big part of it has to do with being able to allow the ball to get deep on me and hit the ball up the middle, right-center," he said. "Really just being able to let the ball travel for me and not try to do too much."

Asked how comfortable he is hitting with the bases loaded, Donaldson shrugged. "I don't know," he said. "I guess I have some success in that situation. But I try to treat it as any other at-bat."

With both Texas and Cleveland winning Tuesday, the A's needed a win to move closer to clinching a playoff berth. Their magic number to clinch the West is now six and to make the postseason is five. The walk-off win was their eighth of the year and got Donaldson the customary pie in the face from right fielder Josh Reddick.

"It's been a while," Reddick said. "Had to make sure I had the technique down."

* While Donaldson's hit was the game-winner, the better at-bat might have belonged to Coco Crisp two batters earlier. Crisp, up with one out and a runners on first and second, fell behind Kohn 0-2 before working a 10-pitch walk that included four foul balls.

"That was huge," Reddick said, "to be able to battle back as much as he did."

It's one of the plays that might get lost in the dramatics of the finale. Some of the others:

-- After Alberto Callaspo's single leading off the ninth, Jemile Weeks pinch-running and tagging up for second on Stephen Vogt's fly ball to left. It gave the A's a man in scoring position with one out and led the Angels to intentionally walk Jed Lowrie ahead of Crisp.

"That's what he's out there to do," manager Bob Melvin said of Weeks. "We're going to force it a little bit with him on the bases."

-- Jerry Blevins striking out Josh Hamilton with the bases loaded and two outs in a 1-1 game in the seventh. Blevins fell behind in the count 3-1, threw a fastball on the outside corner for strike two and got Hamilton to swing through a breaking ball to end the inning. Blevins has faced Hamilton 13 times in his career and struck him out in seven of them.

"That's kind of his guy, knock wood," Melvin said. "That's not the easiest guy to face in those situations with nowhere to put anybody, so that was a big out in the game."

-- Reddick going into a full-extension dive for Mark Trumbo's line drive to right-center leading off the sixth. If the ball gets past Reddick, it's extra bases for Trumbo and might mark the end of the night for starter Sonny Gray, who instead completed six innings on 98 pitches.

"I didn't think there was any way he was getting to it," Gray said. "The ball kind of hung up there a little bit and Reddick, he did what Reddick does. That was a huge play."

-- Gray retiring Mike Trout, who had hit a monster home run in his first at-bat, and Hamilton with runners on first and third in the fifth. Gray threw a 94 mph fastball past Trout for the second out, then got Hamilton to fly out to end the inning.

"He's not going to back down with his stuff," Melvin said of Gray. "He gives up a home run early, but he puts that stuff away."

Gray, who had given up the first-inning homer on a fastball, threw three in the four-pitch strikeout of Trout. He said he "really just wanted to challenge (Trout) and stay aggressive with him. ... That was a huge point in the game."

There were quite a few of those, as it turned out. As Gray said: "It was a team win. Everyone really came in and did their part."

* As tomorrow's print story notes, the Gray-Trout matchup is one you could see a lot of in the coming years. With the first-inning home run, Trout, 22, became the first major-league player ever with 25 home runs, 30 stolen bases and 100 walks in the same season. Gray, 23, has allowed two earned runs or fewer in all but one of his first eight major-league starts.

"It's fun," Gray said of facing Trout. "He's in my mind probably the best player in baseball and he can kind of make you change the way you face the hitter in front of him because you want to limit the times you face him. But it's exciting to face him and exciting to get a big strikeout there."

* Ryan Cook had another rocky outing after replacing Gray in the seventh. He retired the first two batters, but allowed a single to J.B. Shuck and then hit both Howie Kendrick and Trout before Blevins relieved him.

Cook has now allowed 18 hits over his last 7 2/3 innings and has not had an appearance in which he didn't allow a baserunner since Aug. 14.

"He's had a little bit of a tough time, but we still have a lot of faith in him," Melvin said. "Maybe his command's not as good here for a period of time. His stuff's still good, just maybe not his command."

* Donaldson had some high praise for Angels starter Garrett Richards, who allowed one run on seven hits over seven innings and, like Gray, left without a decision.

"He had probably some of the best stuff I've seen all year out of a guy -- throwing 95, 96, not straight, it's sinking and sometimes cutting," Donaldson said. "He was really tough to get a handle on."

* One more note on Gray, who threw 98 pitches over six innings but allowed just four singles after the Trout homer. Should the A's reach the postseason, it will be interesting to see whether Gray's numbers at the Coliseum factor into how the rotation is lined up. In five home starts, Gray has a 1.26 ERA and opponents are batting .178 against him.

* It's A.J. Griffin (14-9, 3.81) vs. Angels left-hander Jason Vargas (8-7, 4.20) in the series finale. Griffin has won his last four starts and has faced the Angels twice this season -- he's 1-1 with five earned runs allowed in 13 innings.

-- 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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