When Oakland right-hander Tyson Ross took the mound against Kansas City on Sunday, he had no idea he would be called upon to execute a defensive play he'd never even seen before, let alone practiced.
In the second inning of what turned into a 5-2 victory for the Athletics, Jeff Francoeur singled and headed for second when Eric Hosmer hit a hard grounder to second baseman Mark Ellis. He knocked the ball down and tried to scoop it to shortstop Cliff Pennington for the force at second, but the ball sailed into no man's land between second and third.
Francoeur hesitated for a couple of seconds, then kept going as third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff ran down the ball.
That left third base uncovered. But Ross alertly bolted for the bag and got there just in time to stretch out his 6-foot-6 frame and make the tag for a highly unusual 4-5-1 putout.
"I did everything in my power to get over there," Ross said. "It was a foot race and I'm not too fast. I saw Kouz get the ball. Him and Francoeur kind of looked at each other and I looked and realized I've got to bust my tail over there. Kouz gave me a good feed and I'm just lucky I'm tall and was able to cut him off short."
It wasn't the sort of play a guy can practice.
"I've never even seen that play before," Ross said. "Kouz threw it right where I needed it to be."
Using his length, Ross barely got to Francoeur in time to make the tag.
"I don't know any other pitcher who can make that play," Oakland manager Bob Geren said. "He closed like a horse in a horse race. I had a feeling he was going to get the out, but I was just hoping he didn't hurt himself. It's a dangerous play for a pitcher, but the athleticism kicks in."
Ross (2-2), who moved into the rotation last month when Dallas Braden went on the disabled list, went six innings and gave up two runs on six hits, with three walks and four strikeouts. He has not allowed a home run in 28 2-3 innings.
"I thought he pounded the zone really well the first half of the game for sure," Geren said. "He had good movement. He makes for a tough at-bat for the opposition."
Brian Fuentes pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his ninth save in 11 opportunities as the A's took the series two games to one.
"He's darn good," Royals manager Ned Yost said about Ross. "That kid threw strikes, banged strikes with quality stuff. He had a nasty slider, fastball up to 96 (mph) with some tail and some sink to it. Their pitching staff is pretty formidable."
The A's grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first after third baseman Wilson Betemit's throwing error let Coco Crisp reach base to start the game. Daric Barton followed with a double. Jackson's RBI single made it 1-0 and then Josh Willingham brought home Barton with a fielder's choice grounder.
Kouzmanoff's home run off winless starter Jeff Francis with two outs in the sixth put the A's on top 3-0. Suzuki added a solo shot in the ninth off Louis Coleman.
Francis (0-4) was charged with three runs and eight hits in 6 1-3 innings. He walked one and struck out one.
"Francis threw the ball real well," Yost said. "He struggled a little bit in the first inning, but we didn't help his cause defensively."
Ross took a 3-0 lead into the sixth but got in trouble with a throwing error when he tried to scoop Melky Cabrera's infield single to first.
Cabrera wound up on second and scored on Eric Hosmer's two-out double, the rookie first baseman's first major league RBI. Betemit walked and then, on a bang-bang play, Hosmer raced home on a single by Mitch Maier and scored a split-second before Betemit was tagged out at second on a strong throw from right fielder David DeJesus.
Blake Wood gave up a single to Ellis and walked Pennington before Tim Collins came out of the bullpen and gave up an RBI single to Crisp with his first pitch in the eighth, making it 4-2.
Hosmer's double was a line drive that bounced off the top of the wall in right-center.
For a second, it looked as though the heralded rookie slugger was going to get his first major league homer.
"I thought it had a chance," he said. "But the wind was blowing pretty hard right-to-left. I'm just glad we got the run in and started to make a little comeback there."
It was the first home series loss of the year for the Royals, who had three runners thrown out on the bases.
NOTES: It was the 43rd anniversary of Catfish Hunter's perfect game for Oakland. Only 6,298 fans were on hand to see Hunter beat the Twins 4-0 with the AL's first perfect game in 46 years. ... Braden, on the DL with a sore left shoulder, is scheduled to meet with specialists in Florida and New York this week. ... After committing 27 errors in their first 29 games, the A's were spotless in five straight until Ross' bad scoop in the sixth. ... Ross has not allowed a home run since June 20, 2010. ... Kansas City DH Billy Butler got his first day off this season.