OAKLAND - Kendall Graveman delivered the kind of starting effort the A's badly needed Sunday, but the right-hander also played an indirect role in their walk-off ninth-inning rally.
He held a dugout discussion earlier in the game with cleanup man Khris Davis, who had steam coming from his ears regarding the strike zone. Graveman wasn't about to let the A's most dangerous hitter run the risk of getting ejected.
"Early in the game I was a little frustrated with the umpire, and he showed some leadership, just letting me know that he needs me out there … So I give him the credit," Davis said.
It was Davis who would deliver the game-winning hit off Red Sox All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel in the ninth, a double that scored Danny Valencia for a 1-0 A's victory over Boston that salvaged what was shaping up as a miserable weekend for the home team.
"(Graveman) was just like ‘Hey, I need you out there,'" Davis said.
"He was right. He called it."
[INSTANT REPLAY: Nearly no-hit, A's stun Red Sox on Davis' walk-off]
Valencia worked a leadoff walk in the bottom of the ninth off Kimbrel, who had surrendered just one earned run over his previous 12 appearances. Then Davis jumped on the first pitch and lined a double to left field. Sox outfielder Brock Holt couldn't field the ball cleanly, which allowed Valencia to round third and easily score the game winner.
It was an unorthodox path to victory, after Sox lefty Eduardo Rodriguez held the A's hitless into the eighth. It took an instant replay overturn at first on Marcus Semien's infield single for the A's to end his no-hit bid. The A's won despite scratching out just two hits total.
"You're going to win a whole lot of different ways in a 162-game season," Semien said. "This was a new one for us."
It was possible because of Graveman, the second-year pitcher who has emerged as the A's best starter in 2016. The A's gave up a combined 27 runs in losing the first two games of this series, and their starters had combined for just 3 2/3 innings in those contests.
Graveman buoyed the A's spirits with 6 1/3 scoreless innings Sunday, which was important considering Rodriguez had Oakland's hitters tied up in knots. Normally a ground-ball machine, Graveman instead went to his breaking ball and changeup more than usual. The result was seven strikeouts, his highest total since he punched out eight way back on April 20 at Yankee Stadium.
Graveman prevented the Red Sox from sweeping the six-game season series. Only three times in franchise history have the A's gone winless against an American League team for an entire season.
"I studied a lot this week, their lineup," Graveman said. "… That team, I think, gets better as they see you the second, third time through. You've seen what they've done to us the past five games, and you kind of take it personal as a team. Because they are a good team, and we want to compete against the best in this league and prove we can win some of these close ballgames against teams that are gonna be playoff teams."
Graveman's biggest jam came in the fourth, when Mookie Betts was ruled safe at second on a replay reversal of what should have been a routine force-out. That loaded the bases with one out for Boston, but Graveman retired Holt on a liner to short and got Yoan Moncada on a grounder to first to keep the Sox off the board.
In addition to holding Boston at bay, Graveman was counseling Davis.
"Hat's off to KD," Graveman said afterward. "He had a (tough) couple at-bats early in the game. He was a little frustrated, but we told him ‘Hey, we need you.'"
The A's needed Graveman on Sunday, and he delivered. His ERA sat at 5.49 on June 4, but he's since lowered it to 3.81.
"Kendall's our ace right now," Semien said. "Kendall gives us a chance every time."