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The Grand Slam: Josh Donaldson ends classic pitcher's duel with walk-off homer

The pitching duel of the season took place in Oakland on Wednesday night. Oakland A's starter Scott Kazmir went the distance and held the Detroit Tigers to one run on six hits, facing only three batters over the limit in the process. Right-hander Anibal Sanchez was even better for Detroit through eight scoreless innings, and seemed poised to go the distance himself after retiring Alberto Callaspo to start the ninth.

Then, the wheels came off for Detroit. After Coco Crisp doubled on Sanchez 111th pitch, manager Brad Ausmus immediately went to closer Joe Nathan to finish the job. Nathan would never record an out, first allowing a single to John Jaso, and then a three-run walk-off homer to Josh Donaldson to give Oakland a dramatic 3-1 victory.

Needless to say, the A's were happy to see anyone but Sanchez out there on the mound, and their aggressive swings against Nathan told the story. Donaldson's home run came on the first pitch he saw, and the only doubt was whether it would stay fair.

''It's always a bit of a relief,'' A's manager Bob Melvin said. ''But it's not like Nathan is a day at the beach either. But certainly when a guy has had your number for that long for that period of time, you feel like now here is a new breath of life for us.''

New life indeed, and with one swing they guaranteed Kazmir's fantastic outing wouldn't go to waste.

''As a fan that was a fun game to watch right there. It was,'' Kazmir said. ''Throughout the whole game Anibal and I were just battling it out, out for out. We ended up getting a couple of baserunners up in the ninth and Donaldson comes up. You just kind of had that feeling when he came up to be honest with you. He saw that first pitch and didn't miss it. It was awesome.''

The complete game was the second of Kazmir's career. The other came in a 3-0 win over Boston on July 3, 2006. With the win, Oakland maintained the best record in the AL at 32-21.

LINCECUM FLIRTS WITH NO-HITTER FROM A DISTANCE: San Francisco Giants right-hander Tim Lincecum was unhittable, yet ineffiicent on Wednesday afternoon, and that's why manager Bruce Bochy didn't hesitate to pull his veteran after five hitless against the Chicago Cubs. Bochy has seen this story before. Last July, Lincecum labored through the final innings of his first career no-hitter in San Diego, needing 148 pitches before all was said and done. Bochy wasn't going to allow it to get to that point again, and his decision was only made easier when a blister formed on the tip of Lincecum's middle finger. 

With last season's no-no under his belt, Lincecum didn't contest Bochy's decision to pull him with 96 pitches. Instead, he sat back and rooted on his bullpen's attempt to participate in a combined no-hitter.

''I think it's just because I know what our bullpen is capable of,'' Lincecum said. ''I just wanted to get the win today and put up some good numbers today, so it was good.''

Reliever George Kontos retired the only four batters he faced before John Baker — who entered hitting .125 on the season — singled through the right side of the infield against left-hander Jeremy Affeldt. Kontos actually took home the victory in San Francisco's 5-0 win. They plated their first two in the sixth on RBI hits from Pablo Sandoval and Tyler Colvin.

RYAN HOWARD WALKS OFF FOR PHILLY: Ryan Howard's fifth career walkoff home run — a three-run shot off Boone Logan — capped a four run ninth inning rally for the Philadelphia Philles and secured a 6-3 win over the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday night. Howard connected on a 2-2 pitch with two outs and drove it well beyond the fence in deep left center. It looked like a classic Howard blast from his healthier years when 30-plus home runs were the norm and 45 homers were always possible.

In this case, the home run wouldn't have been possible without a little help from the Rockies. Colorado second baseman Josh Rutledge helped spark the Phillies rally with a careless throwing error on a harmless Tony Gwynn Jr. grounder. Ben Revere following with a single before closer LaTroy Hawkins retired Jimmy Rollins (only after Troy Tulowitzki dropped a pop up in foul territory). That set up Chase Utley, who tied the game with a single off the newly inserted Logan. Howard then sent everyone home with the no doubter.

It was a thrilling win for Philly and an equally painful loss for Colorado, who had chance after chance to break the game open. They stranded 15 runners and finished 0-for-13 with RISP.

BLUE JAYS WIN 9TH STRAIGHT ON RAYS ERROR: The walk-offs keep on rolling in. The red hot Blue Jays extended their winning streak to a league best nine games thanks to a walk-off throwing error by Tampa Bay reliever Juan Carlos Oviedo. It happened in the ninth inning after Dioner Navarro singled to start the rally and then exited for pinch-runner Kevin Pillar. The upgraded speed killed the Rays when Oviedo fielded Anthony Gose's bunt along the first base line and threw wildly to first. As the ball rolled down the line, Pillar kept on running and was ultimately waved home with the difference maker in Toronto's 3-2 win

That's how the ball has been bouncing for both teams in recent weeks. The Rays dropped their third straight immediately following a four-game winning streak, which included three walk-off wins of their own. Now they're back to scratching their heads, wondering when the next break will come.

"It's been pretty much how the season has gone to this point, but we're going to change it,'' Rays manager Joe Maddon said. ''All these weird, awkward breaks, we're just not catching them.''

The sooner the better. Tampa is currently nine games behind Toronto in the AL East.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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