Rooker adds to storybook season with first walk-off homer

May 13th, 2023

OAKLAND -- The legend of continues to grow as each day passes, with Friday’s dramatic moment being the latest installment in an unexpected breakout campaign.

With the A’s trailing the Rangers by two runs heading to the bottom of the 10th inning, back-to-back singles by and brought the right man up to the plate in Rooker, who entered the night performing as one of MLB’s top hitters through the first six weeks of the season.

Facing Texas reliever Brock Burke, Rooker fouled off five pitches in a battle that saw him fall behind in an early 1-2 count. On the 10th pitch of the at-bat, Rooker got a fastball out over the middle of the plate and fully connected, sending a rocket over the high wall in left-center for a three-run homer that gave the A’s a 9-7 walk-off win at the Coliseum.

It was the first walk-off hit of the 28-year-old Rooker’s big league career and falls right in line with what has been a storybook-like run. Reaching base safely for a 10th straight game following a two-hit night on Friday that also included a double and a walk, Rooker leads the Majors in OPS (1.101) and slugging (.673), while his 11 home runs are tied with Rafael Devers for most in the American League.

“What a moment for Rook,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said. “He just continues to impress. The at-bats continue to be good. We’re fortunate to have him in this lineup and playing every day right now.”

After swinging through a changeup from Burke for strike two, Rooker took note of the steady diet of fastballs that followed from the left-hander, which he was able to foul off. Later in the at-bat, Rooker got another changeup and fouled that off, as well, a signal that he was on both of those pitches.

“I felt pretty comfortable that I was at least going to be able to hit something hard,” Rooker said. “I know he’s majority fastball-changeup. Once I took his two best versions of each pitch and fouled them off, I knew I was going to be able to be on a fastball and still get to that changeup. At that point, I felt like I was at least going to be able to put a barrel on it and hit something hard somewhere.”

Rooker had doubts about his ball leaving the yard given the low 18-degree launch angle on his swing. Doing so requires a blistering amount of force, which was provided by the 110.7 mph exit velocity that was generated off the bat.

One quick look at Rooker’s page, however, will show that well-struck balls have been a constant for him. He ranks in the 97th percentile of Major League hitters in barrel rate, 89th percentile in average exit velocity and 94th percentile in hard-hit rate.

“That one came off good,” Rooker said. “It’s probably as close to as good and clean as I can hit a ball. That one felt good.”

For a struggling A’s club that picked up just its ninth win of 2023, Friday brought a feel-good victory that provided extra satisfaction in that it featured so many different contributions, including right-hander Shintaro Fujinami earning his first Major League win.

Ruiz played the biggest supporting role by producing a three-hit night that included his first Major League home run as he led off the first with a solo shot off Martín Pérez. Ruiz also tied the game in the eighth with an RBI single and later cut the deficit to one run in the 10th with another RBI single prior to Rooker’s homer.

"It says a lot about our group,” Kotsay said. “It indicates their character in there. They don’t lay down. They continue to take their at-bats and pull for one another. It feels like these wins that we’ve had, albeit nine of them, it’s a team effort every time.”

Still, Rooker came away as the unquestionable hero. A postgame Gatorade bath on the field after crossing home plate was followed by a celebratory beer shower inside the A’s clubhouse.

“First walk-off homer in the big leagues is a special one,” Rooker said. “That was really cool. It’s something you dream of as a kid growing up. It’s something I’ll always remember.”