The A's needed that win, and they needed that win badly.
After being swept at the Coliseum by the New York Yankees in a four-game set, Oakland desperately needed a victory from falling even further behind the first-place Seattle Mariners in the American League West. Luckily for the green and gold, they had Rich Hill on the mound and he looked absolutely stunning against the Mariners offense -- in what turned out to be a pitchers duel until Stephen Vogt and company broke through in the late innings, and A's closer Ryan Madson shut the door for the A's 20th win of the season.
Heading into tonight's series opener, I honestly believed that Taijuan Walker and Seattle's surging offense had the upper hand against the A's, considering the fact that they've averaged 5.3 runs per game with a team batting average of .272 which included 27 round trippers, while posting an immaculate 13-6 record in that time span.
Although despite what the numbers may suggest, Oakland's offense came alive and never looked back after tacking on their first run in the top of the seventh. Instead of recollecting each inning, I'll just skip to the good stuff! Does that sound good?! Great!
Hill's Houdini act in the second, gracefully escapes bases-loaded jam
After surrendering a lead-off single to Leonys Martin in the bottom of the first, Hill made quick work of Franklin Gutierrez and Robinson Cano to conclude a severely-painless half-inning. But it was the bottom of the second that had me thinking, "Here we go again". Please let me explain...
Nelson Cruz stepped up to the plate and fell behind 0-2 to Hill, before he slapped a weak-hit grounder to the shortstop Marcus Semien. The high throw to Yonder Alonso obviously appeared rushed, but it looked like Alonso just got a glove on it before Cruz' foot made it across the bag. Clearly, it was a bang-bang play that could have been reversed if reviewed; however A's skipper Bob Melvin must've decided that the call would have been inconclusive and as a result, didn't want to risk losing his challenge just yet.
Next up for the Mariners was Dae-Ho Lee; and if he hasn't tortured the A's enough already -- he continued his recent success against the Athletics by blooping a soft line drive to right field, putting runners on first and second with no outs for the dangerous Kyle Seager.
Surprisingly Seager didn't wait around, and like Lee -- he hit a soft line drive to the outfield which loaded the bases for Chris Ianetta. At this point it appeared that the wheels were falling off for Hill. And it was only a matter of time before the A's would be looking face-to-face with their fifth consecutive loss in eight games. That is until the southpaw did something truly magical...
After tossing four straight fastballs to Chris Ianetta, Hill pulled the string on a sweeping 76 MPH curveball -- which proved to be crucial through out tonight's contest, as the lefty recorded two punch outs with the sweeping curve to go along with his six total over eight innings.
The next batter was Norichika Aoki and with the bases-loaded, I had this feeling in the pit of my stomach that Aoki would slap a seeing-eye single down the right field line. To the contrary, the switch-hitter grounded out to Alonso -- who calmly tossed the ball to the plate for the force out. Two away...
The last batter that stood in the way of a clean frame for Hill was Mariners shortstop Chris Taylor, who despite batting ninth in the M's order, possessed a .333 batting average thus far in the 2016 campaign. As the tension built up for A's fans, and Safeco Field bursted into a series of cheers, Hill made quick work of Taylor on three pitches as the right-hander went down swinging!
Crisis averted! The veteran Blevins'd the Mariners offense and the momentum shifted in the Athletics favor heading into the late frames.
A's offense comes alive, tags Taijuan for five runs
Hill and Walker kept the opposition off the board for the first six innings of the ballgame; that was until Stephen Vogt launched a no-doubter deep into the right field bleachers to break the zero-zero tie. Surprisingly, that was Walker's first three-ball count of the contest -- but not fatal to an M's ball club who was just trailing by one run at this point. But things would ultimately get worse for the 23-year-old in the next half-inning.
Semien led off the top of the eighth inning with what appeared to be a routine groundball to the shortstop Taylor; however the throw went sailing over the first baseman Lee's head (who didn't even attempt to make a leaping grab) and Semien was therefore rewarded second base on the play. After Chris Coghlan struck out swinging, Jake "From State Farm" Smolinski gave the green and gold some much needed insurance with a scorching 3-2 single up-the-middle -- giving the A's a 2-0 advantage, just before Coco Crisp reached base on a throwing error and Billy Burns was intentionally walked to load the bases for Vogt.
As the pressure mounted, Vidal Nuno tried to blow a 0-1 four-seamer by Vogt, but it traveled to far inside and hit the left-hander -- bringing in the A's third run of the game, and as a result he was immediately replaced by Joel Peralta with one out in the frame.
Aside from yesterday's game, Danny Valencia has been a force to be reckoned with at the dish -- and he continued his most-recent success by smoking a sharp liner to left field, plating two more runs to increase the A's lead to five!
Madson holds it down
Ryan Madson made quick work of the Mariners offense heading into the bottom of the ninth, despite the fact that he surrendered a lead-off single to Cruz to begin the frame. It didn't take long for Oakland's closer to retire Lee on what would be a 3-6-3 double play in the scorebook; and seconds later Seager slapped a weak-hit grounder to Alonso to end the game -- thus securing Hill's seventh win of the season and Oakland's 20th as an organization.
- Crisp's single off of Walker in the first inning was his 1,500 hit of his major league career, and subsequently the 1,500th major league game he's started in.
- Hill became the first A's pitcher this season to pitch past the seventh inning, since August 22, 2015 (a span of 83 games).
- Heading into the bottom of the eighth, Hill had retired 13 consecutive hitters as he continued the trend with Aoki, and Taylor followed with a soft-single to center field.