KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Bobby Cramer kept believing in himself all those years, even if few others did.
Cramer’s long and winding trek culminated with a win in his major league debut Monday when he pitched the Oakland Athletics past the Kansas City Royals 3-1.
“Just getting here was amazing in itself, but now that I’m here I want to pitch well and want to show everybody who I think I can be up here,” he said.
Cramer (1-0), a left-hander who turns 31 next month, started his pro career in 2003 in the Tampa Bay system. Cut by the Rays, he was a substitute high school math teacher and worked in pipeline maintenance while out of baseball in 2005-06.
Cramer played in an independent league in 2008, then began this year in the Mexican League.
“There were times I felt this was an uphill battle, that I may never get over that hump,” he said. “I never doubted my own ability. I had a lot of internal confidence. I felt like I was good enough. That’s what made me persist. I wanted to challenge myself to get to the next level.”
Cramer held the Royals to one run and four hits in 5 1-3 innings. He struck out four and walked one.
Cramer went 13-3 with a 2.95 ERA in 22 games with Quintana in Mexico this season.
At that point, he wasn’t about to give up.
“When I got released in ‘05, I tried to convince myself I was done,” he said. “I was with Tampa and at the time they were a struggling organization, that would give young guys a chance and promote you if you played well. I couldn’t even get out of A ball with them. I thought that was God’s way of trying to tell me that this just isn’t it. The problem is I quit physically, but I never quit mentally.”
Cramer became the oldest pitcher in Athletics franchise history to make a start in his big league debut since Steve Gerkin for the Philadelphia A’s on May 13, 1945.
“When you travel a road as tough as the one he has, I think he’s more appreciative of this opportunity, a little older, more mature, tougher mentally sometimes than a young kid,” A’s manager Bob Geren said. “I’m very happy with him going that deep into the game and keeping a lead. You’ll definitely see him again.”
Andrew Bailey worked the ninth for his 24th save in 27 opportunities.
Jack Cust hit his 100th home run, connecting in the Oakland sixth off Bryan Bullington.
Mike Aviles homered in the fourth for the only run off Cramer. It was Aviles his first home run since May 9, a span of 316 at-bats, and he finished with three of the Royals’ seven hits.
Luke Hochevar (5-5) lost in his first start since missing nearly three months with a sprained right elbow. He gave up two unearned runs and two hits in five innings. He walked three and threw just 39 strikes in 78 pitches.
“I didn’t feel like my command was sharp,” Hochevar said. “I had too many three-ball counts. I put myself in that situation. If I’m on top of my game the defense is going to be there. But when I’m lulling my defenders to sleep, that’s when errors happen. I’m past the elbow issue. Now it’s about executing pitches and getting batters out.”
The A’s took advantage of sloppy Royals fielding to take an early lead.
“I wouldn’t even classify it as an eyesore,” Royals manager Ned Yost said of his defense. “It was worse. It wasn’t good baseball. We’d still be out there playing if we hadn’t given them a couple.”
In the first inning, Aviles and Hochevar made errors and rookie catcher Lucas May was charged with a passed ball. Aviles’ wild throw from second base on what could have been a double-play grounder by Kurt Suzuki allowed Coco Crisp to score.
Crisp began the game reaching on Hochevar’s error and stealing second. Crisp has stolen at least one base in five straight games, totaling nine in that span, to run his total to a career-high 32.
Crisp’s string of 24 steals ended in the fifth when he was caught trying to swipe third base.
Royals center fielder Jarrod Dyson, making his first big league start, dropped Cliff Pennington’s fly in the second for an error that let Aki Iwamura score.
Notes — KC utilityman Willie Bloomquist was pulled from the starting lineup and traded to the Cincinnati Reds. The Royals will receive a player to be named or cash. ... The A’s transferred OF-1B Conor Jackson, who had sports hernia surgery Sept. 1, to the 60-day disabled list to make roster space for Iwamura, who was signed as a free agent. Iwamura started at third as 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff missed his seventh straight game with lower back spasms.