OAKLAND -- It already had happened once in recent memory, a kid from Texas pitching a no-hitter in only his second big-league appearance for the Boston Red Sox.
On Sunday afternoon, 24-year-old Brandon Workman, who arrived with far less of the fanfare that accompanied Clay Buchholz’s arrival to the majors in 2007, flirted with duplicating Buchholz’s no-hitter at age 23, holding the Oakland Athletics hitless through the first six innings.
In the end, Workman walked away with nothing to show for his effort: Coco Crisp’s infield hit to start the seventh broke up the no-no and, one out later, Josh Donaldson tied the score with a mammoth home run, ending Workman's outing after 103 pitches.
And some time later, the Red Sox had nothing for their efforts either, as Donaldson’s flared single off newly acquired left-handed reliever Matt Thornton gave Oakland a 3-2 win in 11 innings before 31,417 in O.Co Coliseum. Thornton did himself in by walking pinch hitter Chris Young to open the inning.
“Walk guys late in a game, kill you every time," Thornton said. “Pretty bummed."
Brock Holt struck out to end the top of the 11th after the Sox had loaded the bases on two walks and a hit batsman.
The Sox go into the All-Star break with a 2½-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays, winners of 14 of their past 16 games.
The Sox lost the rubber game of the series, and have not won a season series here since 2007.
Despite Workman’s no-decision, it was obvious -- as the infield gathered around him as manager John Farrell made his way to the mound -- that Workman had won the respect of the audience that mattered to him most.
“Big-time eye opener for the type of pitcher he is," said Jonny Gomes, who was ejected in the ninth inning after he struck out swinging after plate umpire Todd Tichenour didn’t honor his request for time. “A guy commanding his fastball like that against big league bats shows a lot. Strikes are the name of the game, you know."
Workman, who was chosen as Boston’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2012 but ranked behind a number of highly regarded arms in the organization, grew up on a ranch in Bowie, Texas. The land was used primarily for hunting, he said, plus some cattle raising. If he was at all intimidated by facing the first-place Athletics and their 40-year-old All-Star, Bartolo Colon, he didn’t show it.
“He didn’t show any kind of fear for the situation. He was poised, very good mound presence, good composure. I thought he had very good stuff," Farrell said. “He stayed out of the middle of the plate and threw multiple pitches for strikes. You have to tip your hat to Donaldson. He threw a 3-2 fastball that stayed more in the middle of the plate than he intended."
Workman doesn’t light up the upper ranges of the radar gun with his fastball -- he sat 90 to 92, touching 93 -- but there is deception in his delivery, and Sunday he displayed excellent command of the pitch in the strike zone.
“He’s got the ability to get swings and misses with his fastball, he’s got a curveball and a little bit of a cutter that he can keep people honest with," Farrell said. “But I think the thing that continued to be repeated by Brandon were the intangibles: the mound presence, the poise."
Farrell had Craig Breslow warming up in the bullpen in the seventh and said that right-handed Donaldson was going to be the last hitter for Workman, who threw 103 pitches, even though he had faced a minimum of 18 batters through the first six innings. John Jaso drew a one-out walk in the fourth, but was erased at second on a strike-him-out, throw-him-out double play, Dustin Pedroia making a terrific snatch of Ryan Lavarnway’s strong throw to nail Jaso.
Workman, who was drafted out of the University of Texas, also thrust himself into the center of the conversation of whom the Sox will turn to after the break, when Buchholz’s continued absence means the team will need a fifth starter to pitch against Tampa Bay.
Pedroia did not let the no-hitter expire without making a nearly superhuman dive that kept Crisp’s ball from a spot in center field, where it was headed. Pedroia leaped to his feet and made a strong throw, but Crisp’s speed was too much for even Pedroia to overcome.
Workman, who stands 6-foot-5 and is listed at 225 pounds, said he wasn’t aware of what fellow Texan Buchholz had accomplished in his second big league appearance. He watched in astonishment at the all-out dive Pedroia made to glove Crisp’s grounder up the middle, nearly keeping his no-no alive.
“I thought it was a base hit up the middle," he said. “I couldn’t believe he got to the ball. An unbelievable play."
Workman then induced Jaso to pop out before Donaldson launched a full-count pitch for his 16th home run, the ball striking a concrete façade in left-center.
Donaldson jumped on a fastball that was supposed to be away but drifted back over the plate.
“I’m not going to let my confidence waver with good game, bad game, good at-bat, bad at-bat," Workman said. “It’s something I try to stay pretty steady with."
The Sox scored on three consecutive singles in the sixth off Colon. Jacoby Ellsbury lined a hit to left, Daniel Nava lined a hit to right, sending Ellsbury to third, and Pedroia lined a single to left to make it 1-0. The Red Sox had not scored since Pedroia’s two-run single in the eighth inning Friday night, a span of 15 innings.
Mike Carp doubled to open the seventh and scored on a single by Holt, who has hit safely in his past eight games, driving in nine runs in that span.
“We fully expected this to be a very tough series, and it was," Farrell said. “This is good baseball."
The Sox finish their longest West Coast trip of the season, splitting 10 games, losing two of three to the Angels, winning three of four from the Mariners, and dropping two of three to the Athletics.
“We go home after a tough trip needing four days to recover, from a physical standpoint," Farrell said. “Overall, I’m very proud of the way this team has played, a number of guys we called upon contributed, and our guys need a couple of much-deserved days off. I’m looking forward to starting back up again Friday."