08/13/08 2:40 AM ET
Gonzalez tops Rays for first victory
Left-hander allows one run on five hits in five-plus innings
By Jane Lee / MLB.com
The team hadn't seen such a mark in Oakland since 1978. Nor had it entered a game with a 3-21 record over the last 24 games -- as it did Tuesday -- since 1994.
And the A's were playing a first-place team and facing an All-Star pitcher. Not exactly ingredients a slumping team would conjure up for a win, but the A's mixed in a few special plays and some solid pitching to walk away against starter Scott Kazmir and the Rays with a 2-1 victory.
"We got what we needed," Bobby Crosby simply said.
Indeed the A's did -- and it was Crosby's two-run shot to left-center field in the second that supported a strong home debut effort by starter Gio Gonzalez, who entered the game feeling more like the Energizer Bunny than a Major League pitcher.
"I'm at a loss for words for how I felt out there," said Gonzalez, who notched his first big league win. "There were a lot of emotions. I'm just excited we got out alive."
Leading 2-1 after the third inning, the 22-year-old pitcher ran into trouble in the fourth after walking back-to-back batters with one out. Any sense of uncertainty felt by A's fans, though, was put to rest when Gonzalez proceeded to strike out the next two hitters to end the inning.
The jitters hit Gonzalez yet again in the fifth after he allowed a double to Ben Zobrist before giving up a base hit to Jason Bartlett to put runners at the corners with no outs. Akinori Iwamura put down a bunt minutes later, and Gonzalez grabbed the ball while Zobrist headed for home.
"I heard Suzuki yell, 'Go home!'" Gonzalez said of his catcher, Kurt Suzuki. "So I got him and ... he stopped running or there would have been a big collision."
With one out and one runner wiped away, Gonzalez only had to turn the opposite way to get the second out. With B.J. Upton at the plate, the A's pitcher caught Bartlett straying too far off second before getting Carlos Pena to fly out and end the inning.
"That's the difference between top-notch pitchers and average ones," A's manager Bob Geren said. "Those guys can get out of trouble."
It also doesn't hurt to have a squeaky clean defensive bunch either, as Gonzalez learned. That much was evident by Ryan Sweeney's seventh-inning highlight grab in right field to rob Bartlett of a possible double. The A's rookie hurt his right hand in the process and will see a doctor at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, but Geren is well aware of Sweeney's bulldog mentality.
"He always guts it out," the skipper said. "I asked him to stay in for defensive purposes. I didn't want to have him out of the game."
Sweeney's catch came in the midst of yet another bright spot in Tuesday's win in the form of relief pitching, thanks to a combined four scoreless innings from Jerry Blevins (two innings), Joey Devine and Brad Ziegler.
"Our bullpen was spectacular," Geren said. "You couldn't ask for much more."
That's become the norm for Ziegler, who left the game with his second career save and extended his career-opening scoreless streak to 38 innings. Even more, the side-armer passed Mike Torrez for the longest scoreless streak by a pitcher in Oakland history. As if that's not enough, Ziegler set an American League record for the longest rookie scoreless streak that was previously set by the Yankees' Hank Thormahlen in 1918.
So how in the world does Ziegler make it look so easy out there?
"I'm glad it looks that way," he said, "because it sure doesn't feel that way."
And while it was a night to remember for the A's relief pitcher, none will remember Tuesday's events more vividly than Gonzalez, who couldn't wipe away a larger-than-life grin on his face following the victory.
He has a few baseballs from the game and the lineup card -- all material possessions that don't quite match a little something else he was given.
"The real souvenir was to watch the game and have all the fans out there," he said. "I talked to my father before the game, and he was saying how you want to perform well at home. You want to perform your best for the fans."
The 14,284 in attendance rewarded Gonzalez with a large applause upon his exit. And even though he felt uncomfortable tipping his hat because of his rookie status, he admitted feeling "super happy."
"That was a step in the right direction," Crosby said of the win. "We need to turn the page."
Jane Lee is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.