Billy Butler pinch-hit lifts A’s past Tigers

Billy Butler reprised the role of A’s hero Sunday afternoon, driving in the winning run with a two-out, pinch-hit single to lift Oakland to a 4-2 victory.

With Rich Hill again quieting the opposition, the Oakland offense appeared poised to waste yet another dominant pitching performance. But the A’s (22-29) were bailed out in the sixth when Detroit Tigers sure-handed second baseman Ian Kinsler committed his third error of the season, allowing the first A’s run to score.

Tigers starter Mike Pelfrey (L, 0-5, 4.96 ERA) was removed, one batter later, in favor of Justin Wilson who gave up a bloop two-run single to Butler.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the A’s clubhouse at the Oakland Coliseum.

Manager Bob Melvin said that the series win is the first step in rebounding from what has been a tough month:

“That’s a team that has been tough on us over the years, and they’re lineup will certainly get your attention… We’re just trying to win series, and win as many games as we can. We’re trying to climb back closer to .500.”

Hill (W, 8-3, 2.25 ERA) continued his astounding first half, allowing five hits and two runs over 6-1/3 innings while striking out nine. The acting ace’s departure was a worrisome one, as he left with an apparent leg injury.

The 36 year-old, who was diagnosed with a minor groin strain, said of the injury:

“It was just a little groin pull earlier on in the game with a little build up prior to the seventh. I don’t think it is something significant, I think it’s something that is day-to-day. I think I’ll sleep on it and wake up and it’ll be fine.”

Catcher Stephen Vogt, who collected a pair of singles with the bat, said that he noticed something different about Hill’s mechanics, but joked that he didn’t want to check in:

“He’s so quirky on the mound that you never know if it’s just because he’s kicking something, or recoiling from a pitch… I didn’t dare go out there and ask him (about the groin) because he might have kicked me backed to the plate.”

While he was at the center of the diamond, Hill baffled hitters with his always tough fastball-curveball combination. His ability to work a win against the powerful Tigers lineup, however, could perhaps be traced to a particular at-bat.

After walks to Kinsler and J.D. Martinez to lead off the third inning, Hill was forced to face the only Triple Crown winner of the past 50 years. With a first-pitch curveball, Hill coaxed a double-play grounder from the slugging Miguel Cabrera.

Though he allowed an RBI single to the next hitter, Victor Martinez, the lefty’s ability to get Miggy enabled him to limit the damage to a single tally.

Hill, who referred to Cabrera as “the greatest hitter of our generation,” addressed his approach to the at-bat:

“It’s (about) making sure you stay in the moment. Not getting too far ahead, or thinking about the two walks prior. Just make your pitch. That’s what we did.”

Through the first five frames, Hill’s work had gone unrewarded as his offense was being shut down by Pelfrey.

That was bound to change, however, as A’s hitters had posted four hits, all of which had come with two down. And it was more two-out magic that produced the scoring in the bottom of the sixth.

Line drive singles from Danny Valencia and Khris Davis preluded the Kinsler kick. Marcus Semien drew a walk setting up the pinch hitting Butler, who blooped an 0-1 cutter into shallow right-center, just out of the reach of the diving Cameron Maybin. The center fielder’s poor jump allowed Yonder Alonso scampered home with the winning run.

Said Melvin:

“That was a big hit. He didn’t strike it as hard as he did (yesterday), but they were playing pretty deep — no doubles — and he’s not trying to do too much, he’s trying to stay in the middle of the diamond… He had the right approach, and it worked out for him.”

When Hill departed, he did so with a 3-2 lead in a one-out, one-on situation. Ryan Dull was summoned from the bullpen, and in working out of the jam he has now stranded all 20 runners he has inherited in 2016.

The starter said he has the utmost confidence when passing the ball to Dull:

“He’s been great all year. He’s a guy who comes out, and he’s consistent in any situation that you put him in. He’s not phased by anything.”

The A’s will get right back to work, as they play host to the Minnesota Twins (14-34) for a Memorial Day afternoon tilt. Kendall Graveman (1-6, 5.36 ERA) will get the ball for his first career start against the Twins, who will counter with Ervin Santana (1-3, 4.17 ERA).


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.