Tom foolery? Rookie OF has fun time on hill

April 5th, 2021

OAKLAND -- doesn’t have his first big league hit yet, but he now has a Major League pitching appearance to his record. In just his third Major League game, Tom, who was selected by the A’s in the Rule 5 Draft this past December, took the mound in the ninth inning of Sunday’s 9-2 loss to the Astros.

Tossing a fastball that averaged 70.1 mph and maxed out at 72.4, the 26-year-old outfielder completed a scoreless inning, with his only blemish an infield single by Robel García. And he did it all with his mom cheering him on from the stands.

Tom was approached upon completion of the eighth inning in the blowout by A’s bench coach Ryan Christenson, who asked him if he’d be willing to pitch the final frame. Tom hadn’t taken a pitcher’s mound since his high school days in Hawaii, and that appearance was just in a legion ball game. Despite this, he agreed to the request anyway.

Even though he was slightly terrified throughout the whole ordeal -- he was mainly concerned about a potential comebacker -- Tom relished the opportunity.

“The whole time, I was just hoping they [wouldn't] hit the ball back to me,” Tom said. “Every time they swung the bat, I flinched out there. It was a pretty fun experience. I was just trying to look and feel what it’s like to be a pitcher. It was fun, overall.”

Tom’s assignment was no easy task. He faced the top of Houston’s lineup, which tallied 35 runs through four games in the series and had most of its regulars in the starting lineup. Showing no fear, he attacked the zone -- 13 of his 20 pitches went for strikes -- and kept his career ERA spotless by retiring José Altuve and Kyle Tucker on flyouts and inducing an inning-ending groundout from Yordan Alvarez.

He wasn’t just out there serving up meatballs, either, even beginning his appearance by engaging in a little gamesmanship with Altuve. Taking the Astros’ leadoff man to a 1-2 count, he desperately tried for the punchout by putting all his might into three fastballs that were so slow that the Coliseum scoreboard registered them as curveballs at 68.4, 65.8 and 69.3 mph. Altuve fouled the three pitches off before hitting a popup to shortstop Elvis Andrus.

“I was trying to be a pitcher and throw down and away,” Tom said. “I was actually trying to switch it up on Altuve. I tried to throw a get-me-over fastball and I almost got him. He has unreal bat-to-ball skills. I was just hoping I would strike out at least one of them. If it wasn’t for the tap hit, that would have been crazy to have three up, three down.”

The effort on the mound was greatly appreciated by the Oakland faithful, which rose as one for a standing ovation after the last out of the inning. As Tom walked off the mound, he looked up at his cheering section above the A’s dugout, which included his girlfriend, Brittany, and mother, Bobbie.

“It was a blast," Tom’s mother said. “But I hope the A’s are never in this position again.”

Tom easily distinguished the screams from his mother, who was ecstatic with her son’s performance.

“I can always recognize her voice, no matter how many people are yelling,” Tom said. “It’s a pretty awesome feeling. I know she’s always going to support me. Once I stepped on the mound to warm up, I looked at them and she was waving her hands and everything. That just made me smile.

“Getting the last out, I was coming back and just smiling at them. She was just happy for me. This whole thing was actually pretty fun.”

Tom’s pitching appearance was the only fun development in an otherwise disheartening season-opening four-game sweep at the hands of the Astros. A’s manager Bob Melvin admitted after the game that he “hated” the thought of having to throw a helpless position player out there, but the A’s were in dire need of preserving a bullpen that was exhausted as it covered 16 2/3 innings over four days.

“It was a nice clean inning,” Melvin said. “I’m sure he was nervous. Hopefully, it brings a little levity at the end of the game.”