OAKLAND — Sean Doolittle’s ninth-inning walk to the pitcher’s mound might as well have been that of a WWE star heading into the ring, his collective group of Coliseum Doo-heads turning “Doo-o-o-o-o!” into a five-syllable word.
With the A’s desperate to end a five-game losing streak and even more desperate to make an impact on the pennant race from the depths of fifth place, Doolittle was asked to close a one-run game on a day where runs were as plentiful as sunburns in the second deck.
“That was awesome,” Doolittle said of his return to closing after locking down a 10-9 win over first-place Houston on Monday. “The crowd was awesome. I definitely fed off that for sure.”
Doolittle needed just five pitches to get the job done. He threw a first-pitch fastball to All-Star Jose Altuve. It came in at 93 mph, rising. Altuve popped out. It was the softest pitch the Astros would see in the inning.
“It was all fastballs,” catcher Josh Phegley said. “And it seemed that he threw harder and harder with every pitch.”
In collecting his first save since Sept. 19, Doolittle hit 94 mph on the radar gun repeatedly in getting Carlos Correa to pop out and Carlos Gomez to strike out. One gun reportedly had him at 95 mph. For a pitcher whose velocity is his signature, Doolittle couldn’t have enjoyed himself more if it was Christmas morning.
He has been dealing with shoulder strains since January. He missed all of spring training, got back to the A’s in May, pitched one game, then went right back on the disabled list, not to be seen again until Aug. 22. Through it all, there was always a question of velocity. It was 89 mph in May and in the low 90s two weeks ago.
He and the A’s were worried. Doolittle, because he needs the velocity to have an impact. The A’s, because without Doolittle throwing in the mid-90s, they might have to go looking for a closer this winter.
“There were times when I wasn’t sure if I was going to have the velo come back,” Doolittle said. “There were times I felt where I was putting everything into it, and it just wasn’t coming out very good. I wasn’t sure if I was going to take a hit in the future, velo-wise.”
Doolittle could feel the good vibrations, not just from the crowd, but from his arm. Throwing in a game on back-to-back days for the first time since last September, he afforded himself one look at the radar readout.
“I peeked once,” he said. “I saw a 94. I was happy with that and I stopped looking.”
Left fielder Coco Crisp, one of the few players with A’s seniority over Doolittle, could not have been more delighted to see Doolittle back to form.
“It was pretty exciting. I’m happy for him,” Crisp said. “He’s a big part of our team, and we need him out there. It was good to see his velocity up. That was something he was working toward when he came back, and he was at 89, 91. To see him up there with 94, 95, it makes you feel confident.”