Two seasons ago I posted on this blog that people needed to get out to The Nat to see Travis Buck in what was likely his last game for the Vancouver Canadians. It was obvious he was headed up through the system. It was obvious he was a different class. And it was obvious that, one day, Travis Buck, that kid fresh out of college with a flurry of hair and a frame built for hitting, would be considered a superstar of the game.
That night the C’s drew maybe 2500 people to what was, indeed, his last game in our fair stadium
If Travis Buck came back to play at The Nat today, the place would sell out. Why? Because WonderBuck is a bona fide major league superhero now, and he proved that tonight by killing the New York Yankees while wearing Oakland green and gold.
The Oakland A’s had been neck and neck with the Yankees going into thebottom of the 9th when Buck came to the plate with Jason Kendall on first base. The signal came in - "sac bunt, young Travis."
The kid did as asked, pushing Kendall along to a scoring position without a problem, betraying his age and lack of experience like he’d been in the bigs for a decade; alas the A’s couldn’t deliver a run in the two outs remaining.
They managed to keep the Yankees scoreless, however, and the tie stayed in place going into the bottom of the 11th when Buck came up with one out on the board and nobody on.
The first pitch from Yankee reliever Brian Bruney was an 86mph changeup that went for a called strike on the outside of the plate. Bruney has a tendency to hit the plate with a fastball on his first pitch just about every time, but Buck didn’t feel compelled to swing. He did as the A’s have been telling him to do since he became a pro - watch the first one, get your eye in, and wait for your pitch.
The next pitch came in, a 93mph fastball outside for a ball. The third pitch was once again straight, and once again hit 93mph, for a low called strike.
With the count at 1-2, Buck might have started to panic. He might have got twitchy. But he didn’t. He kept his head, watched another change-up drift juuuuust a little outside and leveled the count at 2-2.
The kid has been in the big leagues for a week or so, and here he is, game on the line, and he’s taking a close pitch with the count at 1-2 - that’s just insane!
And you’d have to think that’s exactly what was going through Brian Bruney’s mind - "He won’t swing at that? He doesn’t want to swing. He wants to walk. So the next one goes down the middle."
In it came, 86mph again, almost the exact same spot, only this time Buck was waiting on it. Swing, slam, line drive to center past Johnny Damon. Buck rounds first base - Buck rounds second base, and as Damon’s throw knuckleballs in to the cut-off man, the kid sprawled out in search of third, dodging the tag and lighting up the Coliseum.
The A’s didn’t waste the opportunity, with Mark Ellis getting hit by a pitch, and Nick Swisher being intentionally walked to load the bases before Bobby Kielty squibbed one out for a fielder’s choice that allowed Buck to roar home for the winning run.
Game to the A’s - 5-4 in the 11th inning.
Here’s what Buck had to say on KIFR after the game:
"Ever since I was little my dad was a big Yankees fan and it kinda rubbed off on me. We loved the Yankees growin’ up, and I really looked up to Don Mattingley, and he just went out there and did his business, and as time grew I became a Jeter fan now. I wanted to go out there pretty calm, knowing I was going to face guys I looked up to, but I tried to act like it was just another game."
"Igawa was solid because he threw all of his pitches for strikes, worked in and out of the count, especially coming off his first start where he got roughed up a little bit, I was just really excited to get in there against a left-hander. I’ve always done really well with left handers, makes me concentrate a lot more, so it was something I was looking forward to."
"All the pitches that [Bruney] was throwing were really hard, and the pitches that I saw before for other guys, the change-ups were sinking. And he started me off with a change-up that didn’t sink, he threw it for a strike, and you know, and then there was a couple of fastballs, and the next change-up he threw was right up there, middle in, so I don’t know if he was trying to use it as an out pitch, but after seeing the first couple, I really waited back and drove it into the gap. Right when I hit it, I saw it went into the gap and Damon doesn’t have that strong of an arm, so I figured, you know, why not test him? It was 11th inning, we needed something to get going, and fortunately enough I just had enough speed to beat the throw."
"[Crossing the plate] was great. Especially after a few nights ago when Elly hit the winner, there was plenty of jumping, all those guys coming to me was pretty fun, so it’s obviously something I’ll look forward to more in the future. It was just a matter of time before we all started to click, and it started off pretty slow this game, but we kept on battling, kept on rooting for each other, trying to pump each other up and it was just a matter of time until we started to break out with Chavy and Swish’s homeruns.
Did you get that? The guy’s a rookie, it’s the 11th inning, he’s just watched a 1-2 pitch at the corner slide by for a ball, and now he’s decided that he’s going to test out an all-star’s arm (albeit Johnny Damon’s arthritic dangler) and bust a double into a triple.
This kid has some stone cajones. And another Vancouver Canadian graduates to the big time.