HOUSTON -- The A's got the results they wanted to see Monday as their third baseman drove in three runs in an 8-2 win over the Houston Astros.
Donaldson was held out of Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Angels because of a tender knee. Once the MRI results came back showing no serious damage, Donaldson doubled twice, singled and, perhaps most impressively, stole second base to back the pitching of starter Jeff Samardzija.
"I told him there was no chance he wasn't starting today," Samardzija said of Donaldson. "I would give him a massage on his knee if I have to. You can't say enough good things about Josh. He's a tough dude. He's a gamer, and I love having him in there."
That's sort of the way Donaldson felt about it. He was concerned about the knee Sunday, so it made sense to take the day off. His mind was put at ease by the MRI results, so it was time for the A's RBI leader to get back in there.
So he went to Bob Melvin and told the manager he was playing. Melvin wanted to see Donaldson go through a full workout before the game, but Melvin knows from experience that Donaldson can be a force of nature when he wants in the lineup.
"I've played in 126 games now. You learn how to play with stuff," Donaldson said. "It's not something I think about too much."
Like many of his teammates, Donaldson had found the dog days of August leaving him with fleas. He came into Monday with three hits in his previous 27 at-bats, with no RBIs and no extra-base hits. That's not what a contending team needs from its homer and RBI leader.
"It's on your mind, but you try to go about things and not focus on it too much," Donaldson said. "I've had some RBI opportunities recently where I've hit balls right on the screws right at people and got nothing out of it. So that's kind of the game of baseball. Sometimes you do everything right and the numbers don't succeed.
"It's just how you go about the process and understand that what you are doing is right."
From a completely different angle, that's how Samardzija approached Monday's start after having lost back-to-back starts, including giving up seven runs in 32/3 innings to the New York Mets in a game that really steamed him.
"After that last start, I kind of wanted to overhaul everything," Samardzija said, but he found that pitching coach Curt Young wouldn't let him. "Curt said it wasn't that bad, that there were just a couple of things we needed to work on."
Samardzija brought his hands closer to his body during his delivery and worked on getting his splitter down in the strike zone. Just like that he had seven shutout innings before Chris Carter hit an 0-2 pitch with two out in the eighth for a two-run homer to get the Astros within a run at 3-2.
No problem. The A's were given a run on four walks by reliever Tony Sipp to start the ninth, then Donaldson delivered the second of his doubles as the A's went on to score five times in the inning to put away the game.
The win, coupled with the Angels' loss to the Miami Marlins in Anaheim, moved Oakland back into a first-place tie with L.A. in the American League West. The teams, who will play four times this weekend in Anaheim, share the best record in the majors at 77-53.
A's (Jason Hammel 9-10) at Houston (Dallas Keuchel 10-9, 5:10 p.m. CSNCA
A.L. WEST RACE
Team W L PCT. GB
A's 77 53 .592 --
Angels 77 53 .592 --