'This was Joey’s game': Estes dominates in 1st career 'Maddux'

July 4th, 2024

OAKLAND -- ’ start at Angel Stadium last week was going to be special regardless of the outcome. It was his first time pitching at the ballpark he frequented while growing up less than two hours away in Palmdale, and a boisterous contingent of about 25 friends and family members were there supporting him.

While he still enjoyed the experience, Estes came away from that outing with a sour taste. He notched a career-high eight strikeouts and departed that game with a one-run lead in the sixth inning, yet came away with a loss after the bullpen was unable to hold the lead.

Facing the Angels for a second time in the span of a week on Wednesday, Estes took matters into his own hands and ensured there would be no repeat of that feeling. The rookie right-hander came a couple of pitches short of becoming just the fourth pitcher in franchise history to throw a nine-inning complete-game shutout in fewer than 90 pitches, leading the A's to a 5-0 victory over the Angels at the Coliseum with nine scoreless innings on 92 pitches.

Estes became the first A’s pitcher to toss a complete-game shutout since Sean Manaea on June 2, 2021, against the Mariners and the first A’s pitcher to throw a “Maddux” -- a complete-game shutout on fewer than 100 pitches -- since Kendall Graveman on Aug. 19, 2016, against the White Sox.

“It’s an unreal feeling,” Estes said. “I’m still just kind of processing it myself and enjoying what this feels like.”

A thorough description of the moment that secured his first career complete game eluded Estes. That’s because he said he “blacked out” after striking out Taylor Ward on a slider to end it. When Estes screamed in elation and pounded his chest with his right arm as he hopped off the mound, he was running solely on instinct and adrenaline.

“I don’t even remember,” Estes said. “I was going crazy. I didn’t know how to feel. This is my first time going through it, so definitely a lot of emotions. It’s something you dream of.”

Estes is the fourth pitcher in MLB with a “Maddux” this season. The previous one was thrown by Braxton Garrett of the Marlins on May 24.

Achieving such a feat requires supreme efficiency, which Estes had as he sat at just 71 pitches through seven innings. Though he retired eight hitters in a row from the fifth through the seventh, Estes mostly relied on his aggressiveness early in counts and benefited from stellar defense behind him. His leadoff baserunners in the second, fourth and eighth were quickly wiped out by double plays one batter later.

“I can’t go CG if my defense doesn’t make those plays,” Estes said. “You can’t get any better than your guys going up and catching balls on the wall and diving all over the field for you. … That’s what gets you into the ninth. Great defense like that.”

Getting to the ninth and to the finish line did not come without some potential roadblocks. His leadoff single surrendered to Matt Thaiss in the eighth led to Austin Adams getting warm in the A’s bullpen. Once Jo Adell led off the ninth with a single, it was closer Mason Miller who began to throw.

Estes said he never paid much mind to the action in the bullpen, opting to focus on pitch-by-pitch execution. Behind the plate, however, was a batterymate who desperately wanted to get his starter to the final out.

“I love those guys down there [in the bullpen],” said catcher Shea Langeliers. “But in my head, this was Joey’s game and we were going to get it done. Whatever it took, he was going to go the distance.”

Having recently graduated from his status as one of Oakland’s top prospects, Estes has shown flashes of his immense potential before. Last month, he took a perfect game into the seventh inning against the Mariners. Wednesday, however, was his best night as a big leaguer and highlighted why the A’s are so excited about the 22-year-old’s future.

“He’s showing everybody what he’s capable of,” Langeliers said. “The sky’s the limit. We all love catching him. … He fills up the strike zone and is aggressive. He’s not afraid of anybody.”

Before Wednesday, Estes’ previous complete game came as a 19-year-old in the Braves’ organization at Single-A Augusta in 2021. Of course, nothing compares to doing it at the highest level.

“This is different,” Estes said. “When you do it in the big leagues, especially with the Oakland fans here, there was a lot of them tonight. You can just feel the love from the Oakland fans. … It was a great feeling.”