A's catcher rises from spring DFA to clutch playoff performer
OAKLAND -- As players and members of the media poured into the A's clubhouse following Saturday night's 1-0 walk-off win over the Tigers in Game 2 of the American League Division Series, general manager Billy Beane was walking out.
Leading the charge were his 4-year-old twins, Brayden and Tinsley -- his "rally twins" -- who kept him company in skipper Bob Melvin's office when Stephen Vogt knocked a bases-loaded single in the bottom of the ninth to tie the series 1-1 as the A's head to Detroit.
"They actually forced their way down here after eight innings of squirming in their seats with their mother," Beane said. "They proceeded to mark up all of Bob's advanced-report cards. It got us a run, which I know Bob will trade for."
Melvin no doubt would, especially considering Beane's acquirement of Vogt -- a 28-year-old rookie who joined the A's on April 6 after going hitless in 32 at-bats last year with the Rays -- for next to nothing, yet he's started the first two games of the ALDS.
The A's didn't even surrender any players in return for Vogt. They purchased the left-handed-hitting backstop for $125,000 after Vogt was designated for assignment in Tampa Bay on March 31, at which he point he considered putting an end to what had been a largely fruitless professional career.
"It's our free agency," Beane said of the midseason acquisition. "It's when I get to be Steinbrenner."
And still, not even Beane -- perhaps the most famous GM in sports for his "Moneyball" acclaim -- could have predicted that Vogt would produce so greatly in the A's most important game of the season. Not only did Vogt account for Oakland's lone run of the night; he caught rookie phenom Sonny Gray's masterful eight-inning performance and threw out Jose Iglesias following Gray's strikeout of Austin Jackson with runners at the corners in the fifth inning to end the Tigers' biggest threat of the night.
"That is a huge play in the game," Melvin said. "Now it gets forgot about a little bit based on the fact that the game went so long and there were zeros. But at the time, that's as big of a play as ultimately the hit he got."
Vogt, currently in his second Major League stint, began the season with Triple-A Sacramento. The first pitcher he caught as a member of the A's organization was Gray, who said his rapport with Vogt provided a calming affect in his first postseason start.
"He just knows my strengths," Gray said. "He knows what I do well, and that's why he throws the fingers he throws down."
Vogt helped Gray become just the second pitcher in A's postseason history with at least eight scoreless innings pitched, nine strikeouts and four or fewer hits -- a feat that was previously achieved by Chief Bender on Oct. 10, 1905.
While Vogt and Gray qualify as rookies, their journeys are far from mirror images. Gray pitched in the College World Series with Vanderbilt and was the A's first-round pick in the 2011 First-Year Players Draft. Vogt, meanwhile, was wandering around a mall in Durham, N.C., with his wife and daughter when he got the call from the A's, not even shopping, but "trying to take my mind off the designated-for-assignment limbo."
In an $8 billion dollar industry, Vogt's $125,000 saved the A's from a near loss in what numerous players in the A's clubhouse called a "must-win" game.
"You just kind of wonder what's going to happen," Vogt said, a trace of game-winning pie lingering below his right eye. "It was at 6 p.m. and I had to be on a flight at 5 in the morning. My life was packed up and we got ready to go."
"What a great story," reliever Sean Doolittle said. "A 28-year-old rookie who more than put in his time and more than paid his dues. For him to have that night on both sides, offensively and defensively, that was awesome."
With the Tigers slated to only start right-handers the rest of the way, Vogt is expected to continue getting the nod from Melvin. The A's boarded a flight for Detroit immediately following their postgame obligations Saturday. They'll arrive in Detroit a little after 6 a.m. ET, a quick turnaround for sure.
But at least for Vogt, who made a similar flight not too long ago in April, the travel won't seem too strenuous.
"I didn't feel anything," Vogt said, reflecting on the moment. "So much emotion and so much feeling. I blacked out for a second.
"It's going to be a happy flight to Detroit tonight."