Neshek pitches in wake of tragedy

DETROIT — The official attendance for Game 1 of the Tigers-Athletics series was 43,323.

Pat Neshek is convinced that there was at least one more.

Pitching just three days after the death of his newborn son, Neshek entered Saturday’s game in the seventh inning with two runners on and one out.

Fighting overpowering emotions, he nearly got Omar Infante to ground into an inning-ending double play, but Infante beat the relay to first. With runners then on the corners, Neshek struck out Austin Jackson with a hard-breaking slider.

“I know it sounds like a cliche, but I really felt like there was someone watching over me and helping me throw that last pitch,” Neshek said, fighting back tears. “That was the best slider I’ve thrown all year.”

Neshek’s wife, Stephanee, had the same thought, posting a picture of a baby-sized A’s outfit on Twitter.

“This was going to be Gehrig’s first outfit,” she said. “I know he will be watching Pat and he is so proud of his daddy.”

Neshek said he had hoped that getting back on the mound would clear his mind, at least for a few minutes, but that didn’t work.

“It was really tough warming up because I never stopped thinking about him,” he said. “Even on the mound, he never left my thoughts. I just grabbed the baseball and tried to do my job, but he was always there.”

After striking out Jackson, Neshek made his way off the field, looked toward his wife and reached up to touch the “GJN” patch on his right sleeve — a patch being worn by the Athletics to honor Gehrig John Neshek’s short life.

“I couldn’t see Stephanee, but I knew where she was sitting,” he said. “That gesture — all of this — was for all three of us.”

Saturday’s performance comes at the end of a week that has seen Neshek’s family go through an incredible roller coaster of emotions. On Monday, as Oakland celebrated clinching an improbable playoff berth, Neshek learned that his wife had gone into labor.

Gehrig Neshek was born without trouble on Tuesday, and the new family celebrated Wednesday afternoon as the Athletics beat the Rangers to win the American League West title.

That evening — just 23 hours after his birth — Gehrig suddenly stopped breathing and died as baffled doctors tried to save him. An autopsy has been scheduled, but as of now, the Nesheks don’t know what caused Gehrig’s death.

“That was the best day of my life — I will never forget what we had with him, even if it was just 23 hours,” Pat Neshek said. “After that, though, we didn’t know what to do.

“We were just sitting and wondering what to do next, and Stephanee said that we needed to get out of the house and try to get our lives back, so we should come to Detroit with the team.”

When Neshek joined the Athletics, manager Bob Melvin knew exactly what he was going to do.

“If Pat was here and he wanted to pitch, he was going on the playoff roster,” Melvin said. “I didn’t have to discuss that with him, and I didn’t have to think twice.

“He’s a key member of this team, and if he wanted to be here, he was going to be on the field with us.”

Melvin was just as decisive Saturday when it came time to replace starter Jarrod Parker in the seventh.

“We wanted to try to get him into a game sooner rather than later,” Melvin said. “I don’t know if there is ever a soft landing spot in the playoffs, but that certainly wasn’t one.

“He did a great job, though. He almost got a double play, and then he got a strikeout.”

Neshek’s performance drew cheers from the Comerica Park crowd and admiration from both teams and around baseball.

“It’s unbelievable what Pat is doing,” teammate Josh Reddick said. “If something like that had happened to me, I’m not sure I would have even been able to sleep at this point, and he’s here with us, getting big outs in a playoff game. It’s incredible.”

Tigers catcher Alex Avila agreed.

“My wife is pregnant right now, and I can’t even imagine what he’s going through,” he said. “I know he’s a tough guy, but now he has my respect forever. That was pretty tough right there.”

Neshek’s courageous outing also drew applause from another pitcher famous for getting memorable postseason outs — Curt Schilling. Schilling once pitched a key game for the Boston Red Sox with blood seeping through his sock from a surgically repaired ankle, but he admitted there was no comparison to Neshek’s struggles.

“My ankle was a scratch compared to what Pat Neshek just did, not even in the same universe,” he tweeted, moments after Neshek struck out Jackson.

Neshek won’t have much time to think about the night’s events — Game 2 is scheduled to start just 15 hours after the end of Game 1 — but this week will be something that he never forgets.

“We’ll never get over this — that’s not how it works,” he said. “But this is the way we start to put things back together.”