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Game #137: The Athletics' slump is Dunn with a 6-1 victory over the Mariners

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The new misfit toys led the charge as the Athletics broke their four-game losing streak.

Well now you've Dunn it, Adam.
Well now you've Dunn it, Adam.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Island of Misfit Toys was sinking. A pack of renegade Angels had driven it to the brink, and it was taking on water quickly. But then, Billy Beane took a walk through his local thrift store and picked up a couple more outcasts, and suddenly things don't look quite so dire. He got Adam Dunn to add some thump to the lineup, and the Big Donkey launched a two-run homer in his first plate appearance as an Athletic. He grabbed a spare catcher in Geovany Soto about a week ago, and the veteran had a big day on both sides of the ball on Monday. He thought the Jason Hammel he'd bought earlier this summer was broken, but a fresh set of batteries did the trick and the right-hander turned in an absolute gem. And as usual, the Oakland Athletics found success thanks to the last guys you'd expect to come through -- their worst starter, their fourth catcher, and a guy who wasn't on the team two days ago. When all was said and done, the A's cruised to a 6-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners in front of a sold-out Labor Day crowd, snapping their four-game losing streak.

***

If you'd tuned into this game in the second inning, then you would have been treated to a dominant pitching duel between Hammel and Taijuan Walker. The game would have been locked up at 1-1 and, knowing these two teams, it would have gone 15 innings or more. Fortunately, Walker was not the starting pitcher today (rather, it was Chris Young), and that alternate universe was avoided by a first inning in which the A's brought 10 batters to the plate and scored five runs. Here's a summary of the frame:

Sam Fuld grounds out
Josh Reddick doubles to deep center
Josh Donaldson flies out
Adam Dunn homers to right, 2 RBI
Brandon Moss walks
Jed Lowrie singles
Stephen Vogt walks
Geovany Soto singles, 2 RBI
(Chris Young relieved by Lucas Luetge)
Eric Sogard singles, 1 RBI
Sam Fuld strikes out

That's the short version. Dunn's dinger came on a 1-1 pitch, meaning he homered on the third offering he saw in green and gold. As it flew, it was difficult to gauge if it would make it all the way out, or if right fielder Endy Chavez might even have a chance to pull it back. Fortunately, it carried just far enough and the series started off on the right foot.

That homer set the tone for the day, and hopefully for the series (and the month).

Shortly thereafter, Lowrie singled in his first plate appearance back from the DL. Getting Lowrie back already meant shifting Sogard back to his natural position of second, since he is actually worse at shortstop than Lowrie is. It also meant avoiding a lineup featuring two of Sogard, Alberto Callaspo, and Andy Parrino. Seeing him immediately succeed at the plate was just icing on the cake.

The next thing to highlight is Vogt's walk. Though Young was struggling, this was not a truly "free" pass. Vogt was behind in the count 1-2, but he fouled off five tough pitches while he waited for Young to make enough mistakes to run the count to four balls. I mean, an RBI hit would have been cool too, but Vogt did a great job of working the count and he ultimately got on base.

Next is Geo Soto. No one was quite sure what to expect out of him when Oakland picked him up. He's hit for power throughout his career, but he's also had lots of injury problems (including this season) and his hitting has been inconsistent year-to-year. Furthermore, A's fans are used to seeing the team load the bases and then walk away empty-handed these days. Instead, the uncertain commodity that is Soto lined a solid single to left to avoid the disappointment that seemed so certain after weeks of watching the A's lineup struggle to plate baserunners. With the score 4-0, manager Lloyd McClendon had seen enough and he pulled Young in favor of the lefty Luetge.

The next batter was Sogard. We all know that he is a limited hitter, and there was good news and bad news here. The good news is that he entered the game batting .277/.384/.373 in 101 plate appearances since the All-Star break. The bad news is that he was facing a lefty, and that's not a thing that Sogard is very good at. No matter; Keebs used all of his nerd power to lift a flare to left for an RBI single, and the score stood at 5-0.

***

Honestly, that was pretty much the game. When you see a huge first inning, you never really know if it will be the precursor to a two-sided slugfest, or if the other team will slowly chip away at the lead and make things exciting, or any number of other possibilities. In this case, the game was truly over after that first frame. And that's thanks to Jason Hammel.

It's been a rough go of it for Hammel since he came to Oakland, but things are finally looking up. After a pair of decent starts in early August, followed by a shelling at the hands of the Braves, he's turned in easily his best two performances since the trade in his last two times out. On Tuesday against Houston, he went seven innings and allowed just one run on three hits and a walk. Today, he matched that line identically, but with one more inning pitched. Of the four runners he allowed, one (Chavez) was cut down by Soto trying to steal second. Soto got him by so much with his perfect throw that the play wasn't even close; in the game thread, Tutu noted that Chavez was "out by a jeMILE." It was a good thing, too, because that out ended the inning and forced the batter, Brad Miller, to lead off the next frame; Miller eventually homered, and it was only a solo shot rather than the two-run job it could have been with Chavez on base.

Overall, Hammel had his fastball humming at 93-94 while his slider either went for a strike or drew a swing and miss. This was the best he's looked in green and gold, and it should teach us a big lesson: Baseball happens in large sample sizes and you can't give up on a guy too quickly. This is pretty clearly the pitcher who Billy Beane thought he was acquiring in July, and while his first several outings were atrocious, there was no way he was really that bad unless he was hurt. Turns out he's healthy, and it was likely just a slump. He's still a No. 4/5 starter, so he's still going to have bad games, but he's now shown that he's capable of mixing in good outings as well -- his ERA with the A's is now 4.98, and if you'd told me in July that he would finish with a 4.50 mark when we got him then I'd have been perfectly happy.

Hammel's line over his last five starts, including that stinker in Atlanta: 30 innings, 8 runs (2.40 ERA), 23 hits, 20 K's, 9 walks. Granted, he's still served up six homers in that span, and there are a couple of HBP's in there too, and I'd like to see him strike out more hitters, but the point is that Hammel is no longer the automatic loss that he appeared to be a month ago. He's a viable back-end starter, just like he looked for the last few years. This is why I stood by him for so long, even though I too was finally starting to lose faith in him after the Atlanta series. He was too good over the last three years to be that bad, that suddenly, for no reason. Again, he will still have bad games, but any other fifth starter -- even Tommy Milone or Drew Pomeranz -- would have as well. Now we've finally seen his upside, and it's awesome.

***

On the other side, Taijuan Walker was sharp enough to turn in a quality start in relief. He tossed six innings and allowed just one run on six hits and two walks, and even that run was a bit lucky. Reddick golfed a low pitch into center for a two-out single, and on the 1-0 offering to Donaldson he ran for second in an attempt to steal. He broke early enough that Walker spun around and gunned him down at second, but the hurler had already either come set or started his motion and was called for a balk (I forget which, but either way McClendon didn't argue or even move a muscle). This earned him the name "Taijuan Balker" in the Lookout Landing game thread. Reddick was awarded second, the inning continued, and Donaldson smoked a grounder past Kyle Seager at third for an RBI single. The score was 6-1, and there it would remain. Eric O'Flaherty came in to pitch a quick ninth, and the A's secured a much-needed victory.

Dunn (2-for-3) and Hammel (8 innings, 1 run) were the big stories, but there were other contributors. Soto had a big game with his clutch hit and excellent defense, Sogard had two hits to raise that second-half line to .287/.388/.379 (105 PA's), Reddick had two hits to bump his OPS up to .739, Lowrie had a pair of hits in his return, Vogt reached base three times, and Fuld made some nice diving catches in center in place of Coco. This was a true team effort.

***

Boy oh boy, did the A's need that win. August was downright depressing, and that sweep by the Angels had this 2014 team at an all-time low. The offense was nonexistent, with one big hitter gone (Cespedes) and the rest, other than Donaldson and sometimes Reddick, either injured or struggling mightily. It had become clear that reinforcements were needed, and not only did Billy finally bring some in but they paid immediate dividends. No sooner had the new day, the new month, the new homestand started than the offense sprang back to life. And not only did the new guys spark the rally, but their example seemed to get the rest of the lineup going again. It's just one game, but man was it a sight for sore eyes.

The losing streak is over. The bleeding has stopped for now. The A's look reinvigorated, their focus back on winning today's game rather than trying to capture the World Series title two months in advance. They have to face James Paxton and Felix Hernandez now, but that's less scary when you have Sonny Gray and Jon Lester matching up with them. It's a new day, Athletics Nation, and it's time to get excited again. The season is not Dunn yet, and the division has not been won or lost.

The comeback started today.

The next game is Tuesday at 7:05 p.m., Sonny vs. Paxton. Fun fact: the rookie Paxton is older than Sonny. Lev will have your thread.