Thinking of late son, Neshek delivers for A's
Oakland players don GJN patches during Game 1 of ALDS
DETROIT -- He entered a game his team would go on to lose, 3-1. He did it on the road, with no fanfare.
The first pitch he threw in Saturday's American League Division Series landed in catcher Derek Norris' mitt at the top of the strike zone, and when the ground ball to shortstop off Omar Infante's bat almost became an inning-ending double play before first-base umpire Mark Wegner ruled Infante safe, the relief pitcher threw up his arms in silent disagreement.
He struck out the next batter, Austin Jackson, stranding a runner on third base. He hopped back to the dugout, pumped up. He had silenced Comerica Park, if just for a minute or two.
But for the Oakland A's, this otherwise nondescript portion of a baseball game was a joyous sight to behold.
Pat Neshek was back at work.
Neshek had suffered through an unimaginable tragedy on the heels of pure elation. His team celebrated a postseason berth on Monday, and during the party, Neshek received word that his wife, Stephanee, was in labor with their first child. On Wednesday, Neshek was on hand to watch the birth of a healthy son, Gehrig John.
But 23 hours later, the Nesheks' world collapsed. Gehrig stopped breathing and passed away. There were no explanations for the sudden loss of their child. There was only the pain and confusion of sudden, excruciating heartbreak, until a bit of hope appeared.
The Nesheks decided they'd rather continue the grieving process by heading to Detroit to be with their other family, the A's.
|"I felt like something was looking down on me and helping me."|
|-- Pat Neshek|
And in the bottom of the seventh inning, Neshek did his job, getting out of a jam with two-thirds of an inning of relief work that kept the A's where they were, with the 3-1 deficit that would end up being the final score.
"It was definitely tough warming up down there [in the bullpen]," Neshek said. "I was thinking about him the whole time.
"You get on the baseball field and you don't really think too much about anything else, but tonight I was thinking about it. It sounds so clichéd, but I felt like something was looking down on me and helping me."
Neshek entered the game with runners on first and second, and after he got Infante on the fielder's choice, which pushed Andy Dirks to third, Neshek struck out Jackson on a slider.
"Probably the best slider I've had all year," Neshek said, finding a moment to shake his head and laugh a bit.
Teammate Jonny Gomes walked over to Neshek in the dugout and gave him a hug and a fist bump. Neshek nodded and continued to watch the action on the field.
Life, and the game of baseball, were continuing.
"I just went up to him and said, 'I'm proud of you,'" Gomes said. "What's the right thing to say?
|"When we watched him run out from the bullpen, it was probably one of the more emotional things I've ever gone through as a teammate."|
|-- Jonny Gomes|
Neshek said there was never a doubt he would arrive at the stadium ready to pitch. And true to his word upon the announcement of Neshek's inclusion on the postseason roster, A's manager Bob Melvin backed up the sentiment.
Melvin had talked about how getting back in the everyday routine of pitching and being around his brothers in the clubhouse might help get Neshek and Stephanee back to resuming their lives.
"We wanted to try to get him into a game sooner than later," Melvin said. "I don't know that there's any great time to try to potentially get him a soft landing in the playoffs. But he came in and did a great job.
"Almost gets a double-play ball, and then the next hitter, he gets a strikeout. ... Not only was it good for us, it's really good for him to get in the game and contribute right away."
The A's witnessed Neshek's courage and his will. After the game, they spoke of how touched they were.
"It was heart-lifting for me," outfielder Josh Reddick said. "I'm not a very emotional person. I don't show it a lot. But to see him run in from the bullpen with the focus he had ... the guy's been through a lot in the past few days.
"It shows how strong and how good of a person he is inside. I'm sure he knew his little boy was up there with him and helped him through that inning."
Added center fielder Coco Crisp: "I have three kids of my own, and you never want anything bad to happen, whether it's just a scrape on the knee or anything at all. I think, for a lot of guys in sports, it's kind of a getaway. You allow yourself to get in a different kind of mind frame.
"It was great that when he came in, he did his thing."
The A's weren't the only ones who recognized the significance of the moment. Detroit catcher Alex Avila, whose wife is pregnant, said he admired Neshek's determination.
"I know he's a tough guy and everything from what I've heard, but that's very impressive what he did," Avila said. "He has my respect. That's pretty tough right there. I can't imagine what emotions he's going through."
Neshek said he did it by not thinking about it, by just grabbing the ball and throwing it. He said it just took care of itself. And he knew Stephanee was in the ballpark. He said he couldn't see where she was sitting but could feel her presence along with Gehrig's.
He could also feel the love of his team.
"These guys have been ... they've been so awesome," Neshek said. "I don't think ... if I wouldn't have gotten the messages on Twitter and the text messages, I wouldn't have come back. Just getting that support, it made me feel happy."
Neshek knows there are difficult times ahead. He also knows that there isn't any place he'd rather be than on the field, playing for a championship.
"You try to just get back to normal, you know?" Neshek said. "We sat in the house the first day and the second day, and I know if I could have made it a third day. My wife, she said we need to get out of here for a little bit.
"We thought it was the right choice, and it definitely was."