CHICAGO — In a rare matchup between perfect starting pitchers, it was a young reliever and a catcher that made the difference for the Oakland Athletics.
Catcher Kurt Suzuki homered on a 1-2 pitch from Jesse Crain with two outs in the 10th inning, giving Oakland a 2-1 win over the Chicago White Sox on Monday night.
“It’s a big thrill,” said Suzuki. “Any time you can get a hit when it really counts, it’s an exciting time.”
The pitching matchup between lefties Mark Buehrle and Dallas Braden marked the 21st time in major-league history opposing starting pitchers who have thrown a perfect game faced each other.
“I don’t really ever let what the other guy is doing affect my game plan,” said Braden. “I actually kind of like it, because you’re back out there and back at your craft.”
After managing just two singles and a walk in eight innings against Buehrle, the Athletics came alive when the lefty departed after throwing 99 pitches.
“Buehrle was so tough at that point that they could have brought in anybody and it would have been a little bit of a relief, just because he was so tough,” said Athletics manager Bob Geren.
The White Sox wasted Buehrle’s dominant performance with their second ninth-inning implosion of the season. Buehrle was lifted after eight scoreless innings and allowed only three baserunners — none past first base.
Matt Thornton, who already had two blown saves in two opportunities, came on and allowed a leadoff double to Andy LaRoche in the ninth.
One out later, Daric Barton hit a deep fly that Juan Pierre dropped in the left-field corner, allowing pinch-runner Cliff Pennington to easily score from second and tie the game 1-1. Pierre also had a dropped fly in Friday’s loss to the Rays, which helped Tampa Bay rally from three runs down in the ninth to win.
“Juan Pierre is a great player. He’s made two mistakes behind me, I will never say anything bad about that guy, I want every fly ball I get to go to him. He’s dedicated to this game more than anyone in baseball, I’ll never say anything behind him or any of my teammates, they’re great players, they’re gold glovers and All-Stars,” said Thornton.
In a game with such a small margin for error, the Athletics wouldn’t have been in position for the win if not for the work of reliever Tyson Ross, who was called up on April 7. Ross didn’t mind coming into the middle of a pitcher’s duel.
“It was nice that it went by quick,” said Ross. “There was a good pace to the game. I was able to watch the hitters a little bit and have a good idea of what they were doing up there.”
Suzuki’s go-ahead shot off Crain (0-1) barely made it over the wall in left.
“That was huge,” said Geren. “He got on top of it really well. He hit it hard. My first thought was that he was going to catch it. He hit it hard enough, I just didn’t know if it was going to be high enough.”
Ross (1-0) pitched three scoreless innings and Brian Fuentes pitched a perfect 10th for his fourth save. Pierre, who was greeted by loud boos, grounded out to end it.
In his second start, Braden allowed one run on five hits. He struck out seven and walked two. He didn’t allow a hit until an infield single by Alex Rios in the fourth inning.<
“It was awesome, a good game all around,” said Ross. “Two great pitchers, working both sides of the plate. You go back and look at the film. That’s how you pitch.”
Buehrle, who pitched a perfect game on July 23, 2009, against the Rays and a no-hitter April 18, 2007, against Texas, appeared to have no-hit stuff again. He retired the first 10 batters before walking Barton in the fourth. Buehrle quickly made up for it by getting Josh Willingham to ground back to him to start an inning-ending double play.
“It was one of those games that everything was working,” said Buehrle. “Like I said, 33 starts, 11 of them you’re going to have good stuff, 11 you’re going to be so-so and 11 of them are going to be bad and today was one of the good ones,” said Buehrle.
Oakland didn’t get its first hit until Suzuki led off the sixth with a single.
“It was the same thing Buehrle always does,” said Suzuki. “Changes pitches, throwing strikes. A lot of guys say he throws junk, but he’s an aggressive strike thrower. He throws junk, but he throws it for strikes. That’s what makes him so tough, he can throw everything for strikes.”