Late home runs send A's past Rays
Davis, Kennedy go deep to back Braden's gutsy start
ST. PETERSBURG -- The unlikeliest of sluggers on an A's team dying for home runs strode to the plate looking simply to make contact and use his legs.
So one can imagine Rajai Davis's surprise as the ball he hit flew into the left-field stands in the seventh inning Saturday, tying the game with Tampa Bay.
And then, as if on cue, the floodgates opened.
Davis's two-run homer, just the sixth of his career, jump-started an A's offense that would rattle off seven unanswered runs to beat the Rays, 7-2, in front of 33,273 at Tropicana Field Saturday night.
The unforeseen hit barrage backed a gutsy performance by A's starter Dallas Braden, who arrived late Friday night from tending to his ill grandmother in California and threw six innings for the win despite visible fatigue.
"I'll take a guy of his quality a little bit tired," A's manager Bob Geren said. "He's still going to give you a great effort."
Oakland's offensive outburst itself was as improbable as its igniter. The A's came into the game averaging just 3.1 runs over the past seven games, with a lineup that ranks last in the American League in almost every offensive category. Moreover, it had been shut out the night before by Tampa Bay rookie right-hander Jeff Niemann.
The desperation for an offensive spark only seemed to amplify as Rays starter Matt Garza disposed of hitter after hitter Saturday. He got out of a bases-loaded jam in the first, then retired 14 of the next 17 batters, keeping the A's to just four hits through the first six.
Then the seventh inning came and Oakland's offense ignited. After not recording an extra-base hit the night before, the A's hit two home runs. After scattering four hits through the first six innings, the visitors pounded out eight in the next two. After struggling to find any way to score a run, they was creeping toward double-digits.
"The bottom line is scoring more than them, any way we can," Geren said. "We're pretty down on the homers. So today, getting the home runs was big. It was a big factor."
Braden returned after spending five days on the bereavement list to get the win, throwing six innings, allowing two runs on five hits, issuing two walks and recording six strikeouts. He meandered through Tampa Bay's tough-hitting lineup despite saying afterward that he had not slept or eaten much in the past week.
"It's good to be in your happy place," said Braden, who will head back to California on Sunday. "Obviously it would've been nice to be back under a little different circumstances. But it was kind of fun to get away from the real world."
It's just Braden's third win in the past eight starts, despite allowing two earned runs or less in each of them. His run support of 3.47 coming into the game was the lowest in the AL. On Saturday, though, the support came.
"Right from the beginning, he looked a little bit tired from the last week or so," Geren said. "After he warmed up, he looked a little bit fatigued. It goes back to the kind of guy he is. He had a long week and he came out and gave us his all. He wasn't 100 percent physically, but he gave us a great job."
Davis, a backup outfielder with 109 at-bats this season, only entered the game in the second to replace right fielder Ryan Sweeney, who was removed from the game by Geren for not running out a popout. Davis finished 2-for-2 with a walk and two runs scored.
But it was Davis' long ball that was the difference Saturday.
"I was looking not to do too much," Davis said. "Just get a pitch I could handle and take what he gave me. He gave me a ball inside and I was able to drop the head on it and trust my hands."
Rays manager Joe Maddon was ejected by home-plate umpire Jeff Nelson in the ninth after arguing an unusual play around home plate. With Matt Holliday on second base, Rays catcher Michel Hernandez touched a live ball with his face mask. Nelson promptly called time and advanced the runner. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the play is ruled an error on the catcher if and when the catcher uses any part of his equipment to gain control of the ball.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak for Oakland, and marks the 18th consecutive game the starting pitcher recorded the decision, the longest such streak for the team since 1992.
But it may have never been made possible without some unexpected slugging.
"I was fortunate enough to get the head on it and it ended up in the seats," Davis said. "I'm thankful I was able to get the opportunity just to play. I was able to get in there and contribute to our win. That's what I'm happy about."
Zach Schonbrun is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.