O.CO COLISEUM — Jon Lester’s first start not in a Boston uniform couldn’t have gone much better.
Lester (W, 6-2/3 IP, 3 ER, 3 K) led Oakland past the Kansas City Royals to the tune of 8-3, with key plays coming from fellow new additions Sam Fuld and Jonny Gomes.
All eight of the A’s runs came during the bottom of the fifth off Royals starter Jason Vargas (L, 8-5, 3.69 ERA), with Gomes scoring the first Oakland run. He reached first on a lucky shot, a routine pop fly that got lost in the sun and fell right in front of Royals first baseman Billy Butler.
Stephen Vogt — playing first base in the stead of Brandon Moss — advanced Gomes to second with a sacrifice bunt. A single from infielder Alberto Callaspo sent Gomes home, and it was full-steam ahead from there.
After being shutout Friday night, A’s manager Bob Melvin was pleased. He said:
“We’d been a little bit stagnant, the last time we scored was another big inning in Houston. We have the ability to do it. We’d like to spread it out a bit more, but once we get a couple guys on, we pass the baton.”
But the man who got most of the attention from the Oakland crowd of 30,097 was Lester. He allowed one hit in each of the first three innings, allowing Alcides Escobar to score off a Salvador Perez sac fly the third.
Lester retired the first two batters in five pitches before stepped off the mound in the seventh to a loud standing ovation.
Both Melvin and Lester were hoping to finish the inning without a pitching change, but after 104 pitches, it was time. The final words to Lester from Melvin during his start were “nice going, big fella.” Melvin said:
“He is a big fella.”
At 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, that’s hard to argue. Lester now has 11 wins on the season, his eighth career win against Kansas City.
But another recently acquired player helped in a major way.
Sam Fuld — who Oakland picked up from Minnesota in a trade involving pitcher Tommy Milone — made a throw that rivaled Yoenis Cespedes’ highlight reel assists.
On a liner to center, Fuld quickly relayed the ball to catcher Derek Norris in a throw that looked as good as ice cream in June. The momentum of the throw pulled Fuld into a somersault forward, in which he popped right out of and sauntered back into the A’s dugout.
Lester, being asked what his first start after being traded was like, said:
“It was a little different at first, but baseball is baseball. I gotta focus on that, and try to help these guys win, and do that the best I can. There will be a time later down the road, where you sit and reminisce and think about all the times then. But right now I can’t allow myself to do that.”
Lester has yet to begin looking for a residence in the Bay Area, though he may find some aid from another new A’s starter, Jeff Samardzija.
Samardzija came to Oakland in early July, and was living out of a hotel room when he pitched his first game in the green and gold.
The arrival of Lester makes the A’s rotation one of the best in baseball history, and similar to the Oakland team that won the 1989 World Series.
After the game, Melvin touched on the rotation:
“We feel real good about the other guys, but when you can stick in a true No. 1, and you’re talking about three or four guys in the game that pitch number one like he does. That embraces it. That wants it, that wants the pressure. That wants to be that guy. That’s awfully nice. And everyone else can settle in to it.”
“We feel like Sonny (Gray) has the ability to be that guy, (Scott Kazmir) has certainly pitched that way for us, Samardzija. But when you can stick a guy in there like that, and move along to the next three guys, that’s quite the luxury to have.”
Jesse Chavez, who began the season as a starter in Oakland’s rotation and moved to the bullpen after Lester came to town, pitched a the ninth inning, allowing one hit and a walk without allowing a run.
There was one casualty, though, in an otherwise great game. Nick Punto pulled his hamstring while rounding third base, stopping to come back after a throw from the outfield.
The injury looked brutal, and certainly could have been much worse, and Melvin confirmed that Punto is headed for the disabled list.
Fuld went 1-for-4 in his first start since returning to Oakland, and is 17 for his last 50 at bats. … Josh Reddick (1-for-3, run, RBI) is 14-for-38 (.368) with seven runs scored, five doubles, two home runs and five RBI since his return from the 15-day disabled list on July 22.