ST. PETERSBURG — Danny Valencia is one of the hottest hitters in baseball. Steve Geltz is struggling to keep the ball in the park. The two met during the ninth inning Sunday with the game in the balance.
Because Rays manager Kevin Cash wanted the right-on-right matchup, though Valencia already had homered twice in the game and four times during the three-game series.
The result was not surprising, given the recent track record of both players.
Valencia, the A's third baseman, jumped on the reliever's first pitch and drove it into the left-centerfield seats for a two-run homer that capped Oakland's comeback in a 7-6 win at Tropicana Field.
"I got to make better pitches that are competitive and help my team out," Geltz said.
It was the third time in his past four appearances that Geltz had allowed the winning run to score on a home run.
"Just bad located fastballs," Geltz said. "I got to execute better."
Why Geltz was pitching to Valencia was a popular topic after the game.
Right-handers Erasmo Ramirez and Alex Colome already had pitched. Lefty Xavier Cedeno, who started the ninth, had retired the first two batters before allowing a two-out double to Billy Burns. Cash wanted the right-on-right matchup of Geltz and Valencia. And, even with first base open, Cash wanted Geltz to pitch to Valencia.
"I thought Geltzie, given the right-handed matchup, seemed to be the right one," Cash said. "The guy, Valencia's on fire. We just got to watch the player of the week in baseball. Unfortunately, it came against us."
Valencia drove the ball 426 feet for his third homer of the game, completing Oakland's comeback from a 5-1 deficit after four innings. "I'm definitely going to be aggressive," he said of his final at-bat. "They've been pitching me in, so I've been kind of keeping my sights on the middle-in side of the plate, and he missed. I think they were set up away, and it came out over the plate, and I was able to hit it out."
The pitch negated a career-day for the Rays' Brandon Guyer, who hit two home runs and drove in five.
"Right now it looks like guys are taking an aggressive approach (against Geltz)," Cash said. "He's throwing a lot of fastballs that are very hittable."
It was the first time in 14 tries this season that the Rays (16-19) lost when leading after eight innings. It was the first time in 21 games the A's won when trailing after eight.
"Obviously a tough loss," Cash said. "Might be one of the more difficult ones of the first part of the year. It's a good thing losses only count as one because that one can feel like it counts as three or four."