Athletics' Jon Lester earns win, leaves to standing ovation in debut

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Taking the mound in Oakland in his debut as a member of the A’s on Saturday, Jon Lester had his worst start since early June, allowing more runs than he had in any other start since he last pitched in Oakland on June 22. That’s a testament to how well Lester has pitched of late, as Lester held the Royals to just three runs over 6 2/3 innings on Saturday, picking up the decision in the A’s 8-3 win over Kansas City and leaving to a standing ovation. Lester’s performance was his ninth-straight quality start dating back to June 12, a stretch over which he has now gone 5-0 with a 1.38 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and 5.70 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but it was far from the most interesting part of the A’s victory.

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​The Royals manufactured a run against Lester in the top of the third to take an early 1-0 lead, playing for and getting just one run on a single, a walk, a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly. They nearly lucked into a second run in the top of the fourth after Alex Gordon “doubled” on a pop-up Josh Donaldson lost in the sun that landed untouched just a foot fair in the grass behind third base. Donaldson then got eaten up by a hard-hit grounder off the bat of Lorenzo Cain to put runners on the corners with one out on a play that was initially ruled an error, then changed to an infield single. That brought up Mike Moustakas, who laced a Lester cutter to center field only to have his drive hang up for another A’s deadline acquisition, "Super" Sam Fuld, who made the catch then fired home to nail the tagging-Gordon at the plate for an inning-ending double play.

Even that was merely prelude to the top of the fifth inning, when the A’s sent 13 men to the plate and scored eight runs for their entire output on Saturday. Royals starter Jason Vargas entered that inning having retired all 12 men he had faced, but the only out he got in the inning came on a sacrifice bunt by Stephen Vogt. That bunt came after Derek Norris led off with a double and Jonny Gomes, also making his first start for Oakland since being acquired from the Red Sox with Lester, reached on another pop-up lost in the sun by an infielder with this one landing on the infield grass next to Royals first baseman Billy Butler, playing the field in place of the injured Eric Hosmer. Vogt followed with an attempted sacrifice only to have Vargas throw out lead-runner Norris at third.

The A’s were playing for two runs with that bunt, but they got eight. RBI singles by Alberto Callaspo, Josh Reddick and Nick Punto followed to make it 3-1, after which Fuld reached on a drag bunt past Vargas to load the bases. Jed Lowrie followed with another single that would have scored two runs had Punto not blown out his right hamstring rounding third and have to scramble back to the bag. That ended Vargas’ afternoon, after which reliever Aaron Crow came in and walked the first man he faced, Donaldson, on five pitches to force in the fifth A’s run of the inning. Crow recovered to strike out Norris, but Gomes followed with a single to left field that got by Alex Gordon, who appeared to be gearing up to try to answer Fuld with a throw home. The ball rolled to the wall, cleared the bases and made it 8-1 before Scott Downs came in and threw one pitch to Vogt to end the inning on a groundout.

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​​The A’s tied their season high for runs in one inning. They had previously scored eight runs in the second inning of their 11-1 win over the Indians in Cleveland on May 16, though seven of the runs in that inning came on two swings: A grand slam by Reddick and a three-run homer by Donaldson, both off Zach McAllister, who was designated for assignment by Cleveland on Friday. Saturday’s fifth inning also marked the 24th time this season the A’s have batted around in an inning, which is a total that leads the major leagues.

Despite the long layoff, Lester worked a 1-2-3 top of the sixth, but the Royals got two more runs off him in the seventh after Cain led off with a double, and NorichikiAoki and rookie pinch-hitter Christian Colon delivered two-out RBI singles. Lester was removed after Colon’s single, which came on his 104th pitch. 

Meanwhile, in Boston, Cespedes, the player Lester and Gomes were traded for, made his Red Sox debut. He singled and scored in the Red Sox’s three-run second inning while playing left field and batting cleanup, but finished the game 1-for-4 as the Red Sox fell 6-4 to the Yankees.