Well, it wasn't pretty, but if you have been following A's baseball the past week, it is hard to expect many things of beauty. And, more importantly it was a win against the rival Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California, United States, and it snapped a long losing streak, so... YES!
Even in a year where the escape hatch has been utilized on the season and the future is all that really counts now, Oakland Athletics wins still taste much better than defeats. And tonight's unsung hero in the extra inning victory was 27 year old rookie Zach Neal. Neal entered the game in the bottom of the 5th of a game the A's were down 5-4, and he held down the fort for 2.1 solid innings to bridge an ugly start by Jesse Hahn (4 IP, 5 runs all earned, on 7 hits, including 2 HRs, and 3 walks with just 2 K's). The heroic Neal slowed the seemingly hot bats of the Angels, and gave the A's hitters an opportunity to pull out a sweep-saving win. Neal would not be credited with the win, but he was the winner in our hearts, and it was his best outing yet in his young Big League career.
The A's youth-infused lineup struck in the 1st inning as 25 year old Max Muncy, starting in place of the injured Jed Lowrie at 2B, rocked a 404 foot shot in the top of the first to spot Hahn a quick 1-0 lead.
After yesterday's rough outing for Kendall Graveman, which was highlighted (lowlighted?) by the failure to procure a shut down inning for his team, Hahn did in fact keep the 1st inning clean, which would not foreshadow things to come for the tall righty.
In fact, the foreshadow for Hahn was one cast by one Ji-Man Choi, who rocked his 3rd HR of the season in the bottom of the 2nd to square the score at 1-1. Despite Ji-Man's awesome name, he has not been a powerful hitter at the plate this year, that is until he met the Athletics' staff. More to come later...
After Choi tied it, yet another A's rookie, 24 year old 3B Ryon Healy, un-knotted the festivities with a club of his own over the left field wall for his 3rd HR on the year (and his MLB career), which took the score to 2-1 Athletics.
Hahn's attempt at a shut down inning would be denied in a big way in the bottom of the 3rd as an Andrelton Simmons RBI single tied it and then ANOTHER Ji-Man jimmy jack, this time a 3 run HR, jumped the Angels out to a 5-2 lead.
Back and forth we went as the A's answered in the top of the 4th with their third HR of the evening, this time by the grizzled journeyman veteran by way of Miami, Danny Valencia, who knocked another solo shot, his 14th of the year, to make it 5-3. The inning was not over, however, as Khris Davis singled, Yonder Alonso doubled, Marcus Semien grounded home a run and, after a Jake Smolinski single moved Yonder to 3rd, a Ricky Nolasco wild pitch plated the tying run, as the game moved to 5-5.
Hahn did in fact attain his 2nd shut down inning of the night in the 4th and left the game with a 5-5 tie.
Neal and Angels SP Nolasco then settled in for a couple clean innings. Nolasco, despite giving up the 5 runs, did go 6 full innings in his first outing for the pitching-starved Halos.
Neal tossed his 2.1 and the A's gave themselves a shot to win in the 7th, as the elder statesman of the position players, the venerable Coco Crisp, cracked a 1 out double that plated Smolinski and gave the A's a 6-5 lead.
It should be noted that tonight's nemesis, Ji-Man, almost had a 3rd homer, this one off Neal, but Coco made a leaping grab into the left field stands that saved us all from the heart ache of a guy with 2 HRs coming into the game more than doubling his power output on the year in 3 at bats. Thank you Coco, we are not worthy....
It should also be noted that in the 7th and 8th the home plate umpire decided to go blind and call crazy strikes on the A's, which resulted in an arguing Davis being tossed from the game.
Despite the ugly calls, we all awaited a smooth close out from the A's pen, but yet, we all knew that would not happen. Instead, John Axford decided more drama would ensue and, after closing out the 7th, he returned in the 8th and loaded the bases with 1 out before a Johnny Giovatella grounder to Alonso plated a run, as Alonso's semi-bobble gave enough time for Jefry Marte to beat the throw and tie the game. With the bases still loaded and 1 out, Ryan Madson came in and saved the day inducing a Yunel Escobar pop out that was magnificently tracked down by a gazelle-like dash by Tyler Ladendorf, followed by a Kole Calhoun deep flyout that was tracked by Smolinski in right center.
We had nothing in the 9th as both bullpens shut the door, including Madson working another inning, and we headed into the 10th looking at a fun win or a backbreaking continuation of a losing streak.
After two quick outs, Valencia singled, Butler singled (batting for the ejected Davis), and Alsono cracked an RBI double. Marcus Semien followed with a looping hit that should have scored two, but somehow the veteran Alonso lost track of the outs and held up on the two out loop hit, which kept him from scoring. The A's finished with an 8-6 lead but an ominous feeling of missing out on a run.
Ryan "A Closer Should Always Make Innings" Dull then came in to close the door, and that he did, including striking out one of the best hitters in the game in Mike Trout. A's fans breathed a major sigh of relief to get the W despite some of the bad pitching and gaffes. Ultimately, there was enough clubbing of the ball, timely hitting and nails pitching at key times to pull out a much-needed victory and pull to 48-60 on the year.
The win closed out the long road stand (9 games over 11 days) that included the notable trade deadline. The A's head home to face the NL favored Cubs, who have a number of former A's on the team, including Chris Coghlan, a forgettable member of the 2016 A's who returns to Oakland for three games. Aside from letting a guy like Coghlan have it, A's fans can look forward to additional youth on the roster, great weather and some cool promotions, including a 1981 throwback day on Saturday, where the A's will wear the first uniforms that ever featured "Oakland" emblazoned across the chest.
Also notable is that new acquisition Jharel Cotton pitched for the 1st place AAA affiliate Nashville Sounds and tossed 6 innings of one run ball in earning the win in his first outing with the franchise. A's manager Bob Melvin has hinted Cotton, who is already on the 40 man roster, may see some time in the bigs and, with Hahn and Dillon Overton not showing up strong, that time may be sooner rather than later.
Tomorrow, the A's dance in Oakland, until then, Go A's!