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Game #113: A's 2, Orioles 1

Kenny Karst-USA TODAY Sports

Their freedom to practice their faith under King Antiochus forbidden, and their holy land overrun, a revolt was sparked when a priest named Mattathias refused to worship what he perceived to be false Hellenistic gods and killed the man who tried to force him before fleeing into the wilderness of Judea with his five sons. With a steep history of rising up against all odds against much stronger oppressors, amassing together a collection of rag-tag fighters to retake their home was easy enough, but the rebellion force had far fewer resources and had significantly less fire power than the Seleucid military currently in power. Led by Mattathias' middle son, Judas Maccabee, the use of superior intellect and strategy more than made up for the fact that many rebellious soldiers lacked swords or armor going into a battle, as the small guerrilla-based army would successfully fight off armies totaling several tens of thousands of infantryman and handfuls of war elephants with ease. After a decade of constant fighting and heavy losses for the Seleucid Empire, the Maccabees brought Jewish leadership back to Jerusalem and established a kingdom that would maintain until King Herod and the Romans arrived more than a century later.

The leader of the rebellion's name, Maccabee, means "hammer," and on Jewish Heritage Night at the Oakland Coliseum, A's starter Zach Neal's pitches were dropping like hammers for all five-plus innings he pitched. Zach Neal's name mostly ever appears when the game in question is already far out of reach, and his numbers have screamed AAAA throughout the season thus far, but recently Neal has been making a case to alter how he is being perceived and utilized. Coming into tonight's game, Neal had thrown over nine consecutive scoreless innings out of the bullpen, and had oh-so-quietly pitched twenty-four innings while only surrendering one walk (and only ten strikeouts). And tonight, due to another injury bug that infected the starting pitching staff, Neal was tasked with stepping up and leading the A's against an overpowered Orioles team that has been hitting home runs at a torrid pace all year. Good strategizing and intellectual baseball was required for success.

Zach Neal, despite not being properly stretched out due to primarily pitching out of the bullpen, pitched 5.1 innings with only two hits allowed, once again had no walks allowed, and threw fifty strikes on seventy-two pitches. Neal had eleven ground ball outs and zero fly ball outs, and the only damage he allowed was on a pitch that caught far too much of the plate in the fourth inning that Adam Jones cruised for a home run leading off the fourth inning. He would eventually be relieved by Liam Hendriks in the sixth inning after allowing a double to Jonathan Schoop, but Schoop would be stranded after Hendriks had one of his best appearances of the season and put Neal in a position to receive a well-earned win after a surprisingly excellent start.

Going up against Wade Miley, the A's offense began the game incredibly aggressive at the plate, with mixed results. In each of the first two innings, the A's would wind up stranding a runner on base, but in the third the offense finally broke through after Semien and Smolinski hit back-to-back singles and Valencia stroked a soft line-drive the opposite way for an RBI-double. Khris Davis would follow with a hard hit line-drive to fairly deep right field for a sacrifice fly to bring in a second A's run, and that would be it for the A's scoring.

In the latter half of the game, the offense struggled to get any hits, but still got on base at about the same rate as the team collectively got much more patient, and over the final four innings at the plate, the A's worked deep counts and earned five walks. Unfortunately, each of these walks would be followed by either a double play ball or the third out of the inning, but ultimately the fact that the A's couldn't push any more runs across the plate wouldn't matter. Following Liam Hendriks, John Axford and Ryan Madson would have mostly stress-free appearances to quietly shut the door on the Orioles' offense, and the A's won 2-1.

Zach Neal hasn't been given many opportunities to really succeed in his entire career. And whether or not he's given another opportunity like this isn't entirely clear, especially with his closest competition for a rotation spot twirling a masterful near-perfect game for the Nashville Sounds this very night. But tonight, Zach Neal stepped up against all odds and led his team to victory, very much embodying the spirit of the Maccabee warriors.