OAKLAND — Roughed up over the first three games of a four-game series against the White Sox, A’s manager Mark Kotsay felt it was a good time to arrange a team meeting.
The message inside the clubhouse was about the importance of continuing to show fight after being outscored by 22 runs (29-7) over the previous three days. Given that Sunday would start with a pregame ceremony for Dave Stewart’s No. 34 jersey retirement, Kotsay used the legendary A’s right-hander, who was notorious for pitching with an edge, as a shining example, making sure each of his players was present for the pregame festivities.
“Showing the support of our group behind Dave was important, because the man is all of what an Oakland A is,” Kotsay said. “The grit and the grind, the fight. He’s a part of our group. I spoke to the team this morning. We talked about Dave Stewart, the person and the player he represented here in Oakland and for our organization.”
Inspired by Stewart’s presence, the A’s rolled to a 10-3 victory over the White Sox at the Coliseum, playing with an attitude that was befitting the special day.
Cole Irvin embodied Stewart’s determination on the mound. Grinding through a shaky first inning that put the A’s in an early one-run deficit, the left-hander held an explosive Chicago offense to just three runs (two earned) on four hits and two walks with five strikeouts across seven innings.
Coming off a lackluster performance against the Braves that saw him tagged for a career-high nine runs in 4 2/3 innings, Irvin said he pushed himself during conditioning and strength work in between starts while also spending extra time in the video room looking to change grips on a few of his pitches.
“I threw a different two-seamer and slider today, and I felt like it was a needed change,” Irvin said. “With this work week being as good as it was, I was really hoping for a solid result.”
Though his pregame focus was mainly on preparing for the start, Irvin did manage to get a baseball signed by Stewart, which he proudly placed above his locker after the game.
“It was great to be out there when Dave was talking,” Irvin said. “Stew means a lot to the green and gold. His demeanor. His work ethic. The way he attacks hitters. I find some similarity in that bulldog mentality.
“He said a lot of good things today that a lot of guys in this locker room can listen to and use as experience,” Irvin added. “I’ve had a handful of conversations with Stew. He was just such a great competitor. He’s been through a lot of adversity and I think there’s a lot there you can learn from.”
Tony Kemp was among the several key contributors in Oakland’s season-high-tying 14-hit attack on offense, finishing 3-for-4 with three RBIs and four runs scored. During the pregame ceremony, Kemp distanced himself from his teammates and coaches in a spot just outside the A’s dugout as a way to soak in Stewart’s words, some of which he said he plans to write down in his journal as a reminder of what it means to go out and play every day.
“Just to hear Stew speak gives you chills,” Kemp said. “To understand what he went through in his career and the resiliency he had, what a perfect role model to look up to. I feel like we just went out there and wanted to get a win for him.”
With Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson among the A’s legends on hand for Stewart’s big day, Kemp turned in a performance that would make the Man of Steal proud. Of all the leadoff hitters in Oakland history (since 1968), Kemp became the first to hit a home run, a triple and score four runs in a single game, a feat even Henderson somehow never accomplished over his storied career.
The three-hit effort was a continuation of what has been a much-improved second half for Kemp. Admittedly placing extra pressure on himself to perform in the wake of several stars departing this offseason, Kemp struggled in the first half, hitting just .203 in the 85 games before the All-Star break. Over the 43 games since, the utility man is now batting .293 (44-for-150) with three homers and 24 RBIs.
“It was the worst first half I’ve had in 10 years of pro ball,” Kemp said. “You learn a lot about yourself when you go through those failures. The true character of a person is when he’s going through battles and trials and tribulations. To put that first half behind me and just try to be with my teammates, remind myself to go out and just have fun, I feel like the losses were kind of weighing on me. I just wanted to go out there and have fun, be myself. It’s been showing.”