Donaldson the hero as A's walk off behind homer
Sole offense comes on game-ending jack after Kazmir goes distance
OAKLAND -- Scott Kazmir fired his first nine-inning complete game in eight years Wednesday night and nearly lost.
Josh Donaldson, fortunately, had other plans for the A's lefty, ensuring his teammate of a much-deserved win with a first-pitch, three-run walk-off homer off Detroit closer Joe Nathan for a thrilling 3-1 victory at the Coliseum.
"We all know he can do that," said John Jaso. "Big situations, he doesn't clam up or anything. He wants those."
Donaldson's second career walkoff home run -- his first also came against the Tigers -- comes not much more than 24 hours after it was revealed he is leading American League third basemen in All-Star balloting.
Wednesday, he showed why.
"You just had that feeling when he came up, to be honest with you," said Kazmir. "First pitch, didn't miss it."
It was Jaso whom Nathan wanted. Following Coco Crisp's one-out double to finally knock out a dominant Anibal Sanchez from the game, Nathan induced a soft liner off the bat of Jaso that glanced off the glove of third baseman Nick Castellanos and sailed into left field, putting runners at the corners for Donaldson.
Oakland's third baseman gave the first-place A's their fourth walk-off win of the season, along with a 2-1 lead in this four-game series against their postseason nemesis.
"The big at-bat was Jaso," said Nathan. "I get him and it changes everything. It changes my approach to Donaldson and gives me a chance to play with him. I didn't get Jaso and that puts you in a tough spot, with runners on first and third and one out instead of two outs and a runner on second. It forces you to go after one of their better hitters."
"He threw me a slider," said Donaldson, who now has hit a team-leading 13 home runs, along with 41 RBIs. "Just kind of missed in the area where I could hit it. Thankfully I didn't miss it.
"I was just praying that it would stay fair."
Donaldson kept watching it. His teammates didn't have to.
"We knew," said Jaso.
Suddenly, Kazmir's near-complete-game loss was a complete-game win, marking just the second of his career and the first since he shut down the Red Sox as a member of the Rays on July 3, 2006.
"That was a long time ago," said Kazmir, smiling. "The team win, though, that means even more. To come out with a complete-game loss, I don't even know how I would be able to feel about that. Us getting the win, battling back after a tough night last night, it's awesome."
"Putting up the effort he did today, it was definitely, definitely a good feeling for us to get him that win," said Jaso. "That's awesome to do that for a starting pitcher who puts together a great performance like that and against the Tigers."
Kazmir faced just three over the minimum in his best start yet in an A's uniform, his lone mistake driven over the right-center field wall with two outs in the fourth inning by Torii Hunter.
Otherwise, he was fantastic, scattering just six hits in all and lowering his ERA to 2.36. He didn't walk a batter and struck out eight while needing just 103 pitches to go the distance.
Sanchez threw few more, totaling 111, and allowed just three hits and a walk while facing only three over the minimum in his time on the mound, interrupted by Crisp's one-out double in the ninth.
"Boy, Sanchez was unbelievable tonight," said manager Bob Melvin. "It took us a while to score some runs tonight, but we kept grinding on it.
"I don't think anyone thought we were going to come up short. As soon as Coco got on, we had a real good feeling we could win the game. That's what this team has been great about for years now. Until that last out is recorded, we're still optimistic we can have the win."