Not every player can have a storied, memorable start to their career, regardless of their pedigree before reaching the show. Such is the case with Matt Chapman and his paltry 26 wRC+ to begin what should be a long career in baseball, but past struggles can be easily turned into a positive so long as they are used as a learning and growing experience that builds towards a better future. Tonight, fans got to witness the growth of one of the future cornerstones of the team in real time, as Matt Chapman helped keep the A’s competitive in a tight game with a superb three-for-three performances with the first two home runs of his big league career, and three runs scored.
Making his third major league start after two unconventionally successful efforts, wherein he only allowed two runs, one earned, but only struck out four batters, Paul Blackburn looked to prove that he deserved to stay in the A’s rotation. Facing Bradley Zimmer to lead off the game, Blackburn got a swinging strikeout on a high and tight slider for the first out and to put some of his K-aversion fears to rest, and pitched a quick and painless first inning. He got another strikeout in the second inning, of Jose Ramirez looking on a well-placed low slider, and then a third to the next batter Carlos Santana swinging on an inside changeup. Through three innings, Blackburn had given up only two hits and no Cleveland baserunner advanced beyond first base.
Going up against Corey Kluber is no easy task, and seeing as no Athletic reached base for the first two innings against the Indians’ ace for the first two innings, it was clear that runs were going to be at a premium for the evening. However, in the third inning, after Bruce Maxwell struck out to start the frame, Matt Chapman strode up to the plate, still looking to settle in at the big league level. Chapman got ahead in the count, 2-1, and then one of Kluber’s cutters strayed right down the middle of the plate and Chapman crushed a high line drive to left center field for his first career major league home run that gave the A’s a 1-0 lead.
In the top of the fourth inning, the Indians finally got to Blackburn. After walking his second batter of the game, a slider caught too much of the plate with Edwin Encarnacion up to bat and the slugger powered a towering fly ball to left field that carried just deep enough to clear the wall for a two run home run that snatched the lead from the A’s just as suddenly as the team had gotten it. The A’s offense responded by striking out three times in the bottom of the inning, but managed to tie things up in the fifth, thanks in large part to Matt Chapman once again. The young third baseman sparked a two out rally with a hustle double into the right field corner, and was driven in by a red-hot Rajai Davis, who smacked an opposite-field single that scored Chapman without a throw. Through five innings, the game was tied at two.
The game became un-tied by the Indians before an out was recorded in the next half inning. Encarnacion lead the inning off with a four pitch walk, Blackburn’s fourth on the evening, and he advanced to third on a hit-and-run single to put runners on the corners with no outs in the sixth. While Blackburn managed to get three consecutive ground ball outs to end the sixth inning, Encarnacion still managed to cross the plate to re-take the lead for Cleveland, 3-2. Blackburn’s final line on the night was six innings pitched, five hits, four walks, four strikeouts, and the three runs allowed. Blackburn struggled mightily with his control at several points during the night, and in more than one case those moments where he lost control came back to bite him, but overall, he gave in a solid effort and kept the team in the game.
Despite the slow start to his career, Matt Chapman has long exuded confidence and has flashed signs of the future star he projects to be. He has been a sight for sore eyes at third base, and his power has been simmering just beneath the surface during his at bats. All of Chapman’s struggles were put in the rear view mirror for tonight’s game, as his first two at bats displayed his easy power and directly lead to the A’s only two runs of the game, but as he approached the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning, with Kluber still in the game despite being over one hundred pitches, it was clear that Chapman wasn’t finished yet. The first pitch of the inning from Kluber was a sinker that caught the middle of the zone yet again, and once again Chapman didn’t miss it. Chapman’s second home run of the game was hit even harder than his first, and this one tied the game up at three apiece in the late innings of the game.
For the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings, the A’s bullpen dealt with the Indians’ lineup with ease, as not a single batter from Cleveland reached base during the final three innings of the game, so the A’s had all the momentum in the game leading into the bottom of the ninth inning. Against the best bullpen in all of baseball, Yonder Alonso lead off the frame with a long walk. Khris Davis then got ahead 3-0 in the count before Bryan Shaw fought back to a full count, before Khrush connected with a cutter that sailed well over the fence for a walk off two run home run to give the A’s a dramatic 5-3 victory.
Today provided further proof that the youth movement was the right direction for the A’s to take, and if anything the decision to move in that direction was long overdue. Matt Chapman has taken plenty of lumps in the early going of his career, but he has been learning and growing as a player each and every day, and in tonight’s affair he was able to put that learning and growing to practice. While Khris Davis dealt the final blow of the ballgame, the A’s wouldn’t have had that chance to win in the first place had Chapman not had three plate appearances throughout the first eight innings. On top of Chapman’s night to remember, the A’s received yet another solid performance from Paul Blackburn, who clearly didn’t have his best stuff on the night but powered through and kept the team in the game regardless.
After beating one of the toughest teams in the league for the second consecutive night, the A’s are poised to have one of the most fun and interesting second halves of any team that has little to no hope of contention, and tonight showcased just about every single reason for why that will be. The A’s will go for the sweep tomorrow.