OAKLAND — Stephen Vogt triumphantly raised his right arm as he took off for first base and did it again with a celebratory whipped cream pie covering his face.
He did it once more for the cheering crowd as he left the field after another Oakland walk-off win.
No doubt Vogt will cherish the moment. Oakland defeated Detroit, 1-0, on Saturday night with Vogt’s bases-loaded single in the ninth inning, and the Athletics tied their best-of-five American League Division Series with the Tigers at one game apiece.
Game 3 will be at 10 a.m. Monday in Detroit.
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“It’s a crazy feeling,” a tired Vogt said Sunday in Detroit after an overnight flight. “Haven’t really processed what happened last night. It’s been a whirlwind. It’s been a crazy, crazy few hours, I suppose.”
Make that a crazy six months.
This spring, the catcher sat for six days in Durham, N.C., wondering about his baseball future. He didn’t make the Tampa Bay Rays’ opening day roster and figured to start the season there at Triple A.
A pennant race was never even a thought, let alone the playoffs.
“Just sitting and waiting,” Vogt recalled.
Fast-forward to October, and he’s a playoff star.
Vogt left the Tampa Bay organization for the Bay Area on April 5. He was traded to Oakland, only about a two-hour drive from his hometown of Visalia, Calif. He lives in Tumwater with his family during the offseason.
“Going into this season, I told myself I was obviously going to be with Tampa and battling for playing time up there and in Durham, playing my three positions, moving around and hopefully hit well enough to get a call-up,” Vogt said.
Then, there he was Saturday night in a thrilling at-bat against Rick Porcello, one of baseball’s best relief pitchers.
Earlier, against Detroit starter Justin Verlander, he struck out twice. Then in the seventh, Vogt fouled off seven pitches — including the initial five — in a 10-pitch at-bat that ended the inning.
His next time up, he lined a bases-loaded single to left-center that won the game.
“The one in the ninth, you come up bases loaded, nobody out, and that’s what you dream of,” Vogt said. “Look for something out over the plate, stay in the middle of the field. Just fortunate to come through.”
Manager Bob Melvin stuck with Vogt in that pressure situation. A left-handed hitter, Vogt is getting regular playing time against right-handed starters.
“Even though he had strikeouts, we ultimately had faith in him, and he came through for us,” Melvin said.
For Vogt, just getting regular opportunities has been important.
A minor league journeyman who turns 29 next month, Vogt needed 33 at-bats to get his first major league hit, a home run against St. Louis’ Joe Kelly on June 28.
“I spent a year and a half of my life waiting for a hit,” Vogt said. “It wasn’t every day. It’s been fun this second go-around up here, being able to relax and just play the way I know how to play. It shows that I’m more relaxed. …”
That has been no problem for the easygoing A’s.
Vogt keeps delivering with his bat, his job behind the plate, and his arm. On Saturday, he made a perfect throw to second to retire Jose Iglesias for an inning-ending double play.
“First career postseason, hits a walk-off for the first win of the playoff series,” said right fielder Josh Reddick, responsible for the whipped cream pie. “He’s had some great at-bats … but to get that first one out of the way in walk-off fashion, it says something. This’ll be a great confidence booster for him.”
After a stint back in Triple A in July, Vogt re-joined the A’s for good July 25.
“The dude can run for a catcher,” infielder Eric Sogard said. “I love it.”
The entire playoff process has been a little surreal.
“Oh, 100 percent, and part of it is you’ve never been here before, you don’t know what to expect,” Vogt said last week. “To be getting ready to play in the postseason is a crazy feeling, but especially for me coming from not (knowing) what was going to happen six months ago, let alone four months ago.”
He’s still relatively anonymous; Vogt doesn’t even have a picture in the A’s postseason media guide.
Not that he would care — he spoke more of fellow rookie Sonny Gray’s gem Saturday night and how the 23-year-old right-hander calmly matched Verlander.
Vogt caught Gray at Triple-A Sacramento for much of the season.
“It was awesome for him to be in that moment, because you just knew he was going to do something and get the job done,” Gray said.
Vogt’s opportunity came after John Jaso sustained a season-ending concussion when he took a ball off his mask July 24 at Houston.
Melvin has enough confidence in Vogt to carry three catchers on the playoff roster, including Kurt Suzuki and Derek Norris.
“At this point, it really feels like he’s been here quite awhile with us because he’s done such a good job with the pitching staff and has acclimated very quickly,” Melvin said. “He studies it very hard, he’s very prepared for each and every game, and he’s given us not only contributions defensively but offensively at times, too. So he was a really nice pickup for us.”