Rookie Luis Barrera hits walk-off homer, first career blast lifts A’s to stunning comeback win

Luis Barrera probably shouldn’t have been in the batter’s box in the ninth inning on Saturday afternoon at the Coliseum.

Angels closer Raisel Iglesias needed just eight pitches to retire Seth Brown and Sean Murphy, recording two quick outs against a pair of A’s power threats. But with his team trailing 3-1, Barrera took his first at-bat of the game anyway as Ramón Laureano’s double and Christian Bethancourt’s walk brought the winning run to the plate.

The 1-1 slider Iglesias threw Barrera wasn’t necessarily a strike, but it didn’t need to be. The left-handed hitting outfielder turned on the pitch and blasted it into the right field bleachers for a walk-off, three-run home run in a thrilling 4-3 comeback win for the A’s.

“Really, right now I have no words,” Barrera said through a Spanish-language interpreter. “I have nothing to say right now. So much emotion going right now. I’m just really happy to be part of the ball club, part of the team.”

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The first home run of Barrera’s major league career couldn’t have come at a better time for a slumping A’s offense, which was held to two hits in a shutout loss on Friday night before recording just three hits over the first eight innings of Saturday’s game.

The walk-off win was also the first for first-year manager Mark Kotsay.

“It feels great,” Kotsay said. “I haven’t come down yet.”

Aside from the A’s offensive struggles, there were other reasons Barrera wasn’t a promising choice in the ninth inning of Game 1 on Saturday.

WALK IT OFF LUIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

— Oakland A's (@Athletics) May 14, 2022

Consider the fact the inexperienced outfielder was just 4-for-17 in his brief major league career entering Saturday’s game. Consider the fact the A’s had already designated Barrera for assignment this season, exposing him to the waiver wire after determining he wasn’t an ideal fit for an Oakland club in the midst of another rebuild. Consider the fact he didn’t enter the game until the A’s needed a pinch-runner for Jed Lowrie after the 38-year-old designated hitter got his team on the board with a two-strike single in the seventh.

Then consider that none of it mattered to Barrera, who was promptly doubled off of first base after misjudging a fly ball caught by Angels right fielder Jack Mayfield. When he took his spot in left field in the top of the eighth, Barrera misplayed a ball that led to a third Angels run.

After back-to-back miscues, all Barrera wanted was a chance. All the A’s needed was a hero. However unlikely, Barrera fit the bill and the A’s stunned an Angels club that thought a victory was in hand when its closer, who signed a four-year, $58 million contract this offseason, stepped on the mound.

“Interesting game for Barrera,” Kotsay said. “Obviously with the mistakes he made, I’m sure he wanted the at-bat. It gave him a chance to redeem himself.”

Barrera’s walk-off homer came a little more than a month after the A’s cut him from their 40-man roster, which gave 29 other teams the opportunity to claim the 26-year-old Dominican Republic native. Despite his career .279 minor league average and plus speed, no one took a chance on a player who had spent nearly a decade in the A’s farm system after signing with the organization as a teenager in July, 2012.

After being outrighted to Triple-A Sacramento on April 15, Barrera hit .286 with an .820 OPS and showed improved power. His three home runs in 91 plate appearances with the Las Vegas Aviators represented a modest uptick for a player who had never homered more than seven times in a minor league season.

Barrera’s Triple-A success and the A’s troubling offense compelled Oakland to give him another shot this week, as the team designated former first round pick Billy McKinney for assignment to promote Barrera on Monday. Opportunities haven’t been plentiful –Barrera was 1-for-8 upon returning– but with the A’s searching far and wide for offensive help, they might become more frequent following Saturday’s display.

The A’s stayed within striking distance on Saturday thanks to another strong start from emerging staff ace Paul Blackburn, who lowered his ERA to 1.67 with 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball.