Braden pitches through emotional pain

Braden pitches through emotional pain

ST. PETERSBURG -- As his Oakland teammates filtered into the visiting clubhouse Sunday morning, they may have noticed Dallas Braden's empty locker. They may have noticed him missing from the team hotel earlier. They may have even noticed when Braden snuck away from the team the night before, hopping on a plane back to California to tend to his sick grandmother.

But they most certainly noticed the effort he gave against the Rays on Saturday. And a day later, the gutsy performance by the A's left-hander still resonated in the Oakland clubhouse.

Braden returned from the bereavement list to throw six innings with two runs, five hits, two walks and six strikeouts and earned the win over Tampa Bay, snapping Oakland's three-game losing streak. After the game, though, Braden spoke about the ordeal he'd been through over the past week to tend to his grandmother, who suffered a heart attack and stroke in his hometown of Stockton, Calif., last Sunday.

"It's hard to focus, just because of the relationship I have with my grandmother. If she's not breathing right, I want to know about it. If she can't see straight, I want to know about it," Braden said Saturday. "For me to be this far away from her at a time like this does not sit well. I won't sleep again tonight and I won't eat again tonight. It will be the same emotion until I physically see her tomorrow morning."

Braden said he arrived in St. Petersburg at around 11 ET on Friday night, after a six-hour flight from California. Braden claimed he'd spent the past five days in the hospital, unable to sleep or eat.

He was able to throw a brief side session on Thursday in Stockton to keep his arm in shape. But it had been 10 days since he'd made his last start, and clearly his thoughts were elsewhere from the mound.

"I wasn't really able to prepare as I normally do for a start," Braden said. "I just kind of had to jump on [catcher Kurt Suzuki's] back tonight. As usual, he carried the load."

Braden certainly didn't show any signs of rust. Nor was he overwhelmed by his emotions. The only thing A's manager Bob Geren noticed was a little bit of fatigue early on -- understandable, considering the ordeal he'd been through.

Braden left the team early Sunday morning to head back to Stockton. He said his grandmother was expected to be released from the hospital on Saturday and appears to be feeling better.

For him to come back and pitch under the circumstances was one sign of his meaning to this A's team. Never mind that he went on to pitch so well.

"I expected that," Oakland first baseman Jack Cust said. "I expected he was going to go out there and pitch the way he pitches. He may have been a little tired, just from the travel and all the stuff that's been going on. But that's the way he is. When he gets on the mound, he competes."

Suzuki said he thought Braden did look fatigued but never let it get to him. After allowing an RBI single to Gabe Kapler in the second inning, he retired 10 of the next 11 batters he faced.

"That's him. That's the kind of competitor he is," Suzuki said. "As a teammate and a friend, that kind of pumps you up. It shows what he does to help the team, and things like that get you fired up."

Braden will take the All-Star break to recover, and then be Oakland's starter when the second half resumes against Los Angeles on July 16. His 3.12 ERA is seventh in the American League this season.

But no performance may have characterized his mettle more than the sleep-deprived, empty-stomach, travel-weary showing he gave Saturday night

"We're happy his grandma is doing better," Suzuki said. "That's tough for everybody. We know how close he was with her. That's always a tough situation. But for him to come and help the team and think about the team like he did was huge."

Zach Schonbrun is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.