Blanton earns first big league win

Blanton earns first big league win

OAKLAND -- The A's 2002 draft class is the one featured in a national best-seller, and two members of that class -- rookies Joe Blanton and Nick Swisher -- played starring roles on Saturday night.

The evening cast a pretty favorable light on Oakland's 2001 and 2004 drafts, too. In fact, the A's 5-2 victory over the visiting Blue Jays was so filled with big moments from homegrown talent that it would have been a perfectly justifiable for anyone in the club's scouting department to puff out their pectorals with pride.

"We've got a lot of young guys, and we're all getting experience as we go," said Blanton, who threw seven strong innings to pick up his first Major League win. "It's nice to see people you came up with getting some big hits and making some big plays."

Reigning American League Rookie of the Year Bobby Crosby, the crown jewel of the 2001 haul, started the game-winning rally in the bottom of the seventh inning with that most A's-like of offensive weapons -- a walk.

Rookie Dan Johnson, another of Oakland's five 2001 draftees to have reached the big leagues (Jeremy Bonderman of the Tigers, Neal Cotts of the White Sox and Mike Wood of the Royals are the others), followed with his third hit of the game.

Swisher, who lives with Blanton and his wife, then snapped a 2-2 tie with an RBI infield-single up the middle. Jays shortstop Russ Adam dove to stop the ball and tried to throw Swisher out, but instead threw it away, allowing Johnson to score on the play as well.

"I could care less about myself," Swisher said. "I mean, yeah, it's cool to get that hit, but it's so much cooler to finally get my boy Joe a win."

The win became official when 2004 draftee Huston Street, all of 21 years old, picked up his second save in two chances since being anointed the club's new closer.

"Big night for some of our young guys, absolutely," said manager Ken Macha.

Yet the aforementioned moments might not have mattered much but for the dramatics supplied by a far less-heralded A's draftee. Outfielder Eric Byrnes, an eighth-round selection in 1998 who didn't become a full-time Major Leaguer until 2003, made a momentum-shifting defensive play in the top of the sixth inning and blasted a game-tying homer in the bottom of the frame.

"We had some young guys have some big nights," Street said. "But ultimately, if Byrnes doesn't spark us ... we're probably not all so happy right now."

First, the defensive gem, which even Byrnes admitted was par for his own adventurous course. Often forced to make spectacular diving plays as the result of getting a bad break on balls, this time he was forced to make a spectacular throw as the result of poor mechanics.

With runners at first and second with nobody out, Byrnes, making his first start of the year in center field, caught a medium-depth fly ball by Vernon Wells while back on his heels before uncorking a rocket of a throw to third base to double off the speedy Orlando Hudson.

Byrnes said he didn't blame Hudson for challenging him, and acting Toronto manager Ernie Whitt, filling in for the ailing John Gibbins, didn't fault his guy, either.

"Hudson saw that he was a little flat-footed out there and wasn't coming in on the ball," Whitt explained. "It was a bang-bang play at third base, and it took a good throw to get him."

"Classic Byrnsie right there," Byrnes said. "Doing something wrong that somehow turns out right."

Byrnes' home run was a fairly familiar sight, too. Byrnes, who is batting .373 against left-handed pitching this year, hammered a 2-1 offering from Jays southpaw Ted Lilly high into the concrete steps beyond the left-field wall.

"It was a fastball, middle up and in, in a fastball count," lamented Lilly. "You end up throwing that too many times, and you're going to pay."

Blanton, who hadn't pitched more than 4 2/3 innings in any of his previous four starts, gave up four hits and walked one before handing off to lefty Ricardo Rincon to start the eighth. Street came on with two out and one on, struck out red-hot Frank Catalanotto, then whipped through a perfect ninth.

But not before yet another product of Oakland's farm system put a big bow on the night while giving Street some breathing room. Eric Chavez, the A's top pick in 1996, smoked a solo homer in the bottom of the eighth.

"That third run makes things so much easier as a closer," Street said. "It was just a great, fun night all the way around."

Mychael Urban is a national writer for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.