A's walk-off win gives Zito lasting image

A's walk-off win gives Zito lasting image

OAKLAND -- Barry Zito wore the satisfied, bemused look of a man who knows he's about to attend one hell of a party.

Thanks to Bobby Kielty, Jay Payton, Marco Scutaro and a host of lesser heroes, he is.

Zito, a free-agent-to-be, didn't win what he all but conceded was his last regular-season start at McAfee Coliseum as a member of the A's on Friday night against the Angels. But he gave Oakland 7 2/3 strong innings, walked off the field to a standing ovation from a sellout crowd, then marveled as Scutaro's fly-ball single into the massive gap between the Angels' only two outfielders -- yes, two outfielders -- with one out in the bottom of the 12th inning scored Kielty from third and put the A's within one weekend win of a well-deserved bash.

Oakland's crazy 5-4 victory pushed its lead over the rival Angels in the American League West to eight games with nine to play, reducing the magic number to clinch to two. Beat the Angels on Saturday or Sunday and let the celebration begin.

"I could just kiss Marco on the mouth right now," Zito said. "What an unbelievable game. If that's my last one here, wow. How could I ever forget it?"

Much was memorable, to be sure. Not even A's manager Ken Macha, who meticulously details the highlights of each game with the media in his office, could remember them all.

In fact, he left one of the most comical images of the evening.

After Milton Bradley, whose eighth-inning solo homer stood to be the game-winner until Huston Street absorbed a tough blown save in the ninth, was ejected by home-plate umpire Ron Kulpa for protesting a called third strike in the 11th, the fiery outfielder made a bee-line for Kulpa, appearing intent on doing some serious damage.

Until, that is, Macha appeared on the scene. Trained in Tae Kwon Do and a former big-league catcher who occasionally jumps into the batting cage and pumps a few balls out of the yard, Macha put Bradley in a bear hug and lifted him completely off the ground, leaving Bradley's feet flailing like Wile E. Coyote right before falling off a cliff.

"Oh my god," Zito said. "Macha is an absolute beast. Only he could have done that. Well, maybe him and Big Frank [Thomas]."

The other semi-comical scene came just before Scutaro's game-winner. After Kielty led off the 12th with a pinch-hit double off Angels closer Frankie Rodriguez, Jay Payton gave himself up with a ground ball to the right side, moving Kielty to third. And then the fun began.

Los Angeles center fielder Chone Figgins ran in from center field and exchanged his glove for an infielder's model. There was a conference on the mound. Second baseman Adam Kennedy moved to the shortstop side of the keystone sack. Figgins set up shop where Kennedy was. Nick Swisher, who had hit his 33rd homer of the year earlier in the game, was intentionally walked.

And up stepped Scutaro and his seven game-ending at-bats over the past three seasons.

"I felt like our chances were pretty good with him up there," Kielty said.

Scutaro didn't like his chances when he fell behind, 0-2, but he got hold of a 98-mph fastball and sent it between the Angels in the outfield for game-ending at-bat No. 8.

"After two strikes, I was just trying to survive," Scutaro said. "I just look for a pitch and not try to miss it."

Said Zito: "If they had a scouting report on Scooter, they wouldn't have walked Swish."

It was a strange night all the way around.

Vladimir Guerrero channeled Jeremy Giambi by not sliding his way into being thrown out at the plate by Payton in the sixth. Payton got another assist in the ninth when, with a runner at first, he picked up a pop fly that landed in no-man's land and fired to second for a force out. And it was Payton who just missed catching Maicer Izturis' two-out looper to left in the ninth that scored the tying run.

It was a clutch night in many ways, too. Eric Chavez bashed a game-tying homer in the seventh. Righty Kiko Calero pitched two shutout innings after Street. And lefty Brad Halsey, after walking the leadoff man in the top of the 12th, wild-pitching him to second and seeing a perfect sacrifice bunt move him to third, intentionally walked Guerrero before getting Juan Rivera to bounce into a double play.

"That's quite a baseball game," Macha said.

"It was just one of those games; it's hard to put into words," Swisher added. "Unreal, just the way it happened."

Zito wouldn't have it any other way. He knows his first-round playoff starts might very well be made on the road, and he knows that Friday might have been his last time on this mound in home whites. But rather than get lost in sentimentality -- a fan presented him with two dozen yellow roses and a photo collage that "hit me pretty hard" -- he chose to look forward to the fun on tap.

"The idea that it's my last game here, that's crazy. I can't even go there," he said, eyes glistening. "If I do that, I'm looking at the wake. Right now, I'm just trying to man the speedboat, and it's a serious rush of a ride."

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