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Game #1: A’s walk off against Angels on Opening Day

The sluggers slugged, the relievers gave relief, and Marcus Semien won it in extras.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland A’s won in walk-off fashion on Opening Day, outlasting the Angels for a 6-5 victory in 11 innings on a beautiful Thursday afternoon. Along the way Oakland showed off many of the strengths and weaknesses that were expected of them, with a shaky performance from their starting pitcher offset by strong bullpen work and lots of power from their lineup. In the end, Marcus Semien came up with the winning hit in extras.

*** Today’s Game Threads: Part 1 | Part 2 ***

The Angels jumped out to an early lead against A’s starter Kendall Graveman. The sinkerballer came out hitting 95 mph and was at least able to stay in the zone, but too many of his strikes were left up and subsequently hammered. The Angels put together a two-run rally in the 2nd, including a deep triple by Kole Calhoun, a ground rule double by Martin Maldonado, and the first career hit for rookie phenom Shohei Ohtani. They later added three solo homers — one in the 4th by Calhoun, one in the 5th by free agent addition Zack Cozart, and one leading off the 6th by Albert Pujols that chased Graveman from the game.

The bright side of Graveman’s outing is that he didn’t walk anybody, forcing the Angels to do their own damage without any free help. If he’s gonna give up homers, at least let ‘em be solo shots. He earned his runs, with the opposition hitting rockets left and right, but it could have been a lot worse if he’d spotted them extra fuel. He also got some assistance from his defense, as Matt Chapman wasted no time making his first mind-boggling play of the season:

That’s his impression of Tarp Catch, except he started running from the shortstop position because the defense was shifted for a lefty. Gold Glove Watch has begun.

While Graveman was laboring through the early innings, the lineup wasn’t faring much better against starter Garrett Richards and his 96-98 mph heat. They got on base against him in every frame, but over and over they fell short of capitalizing. The 1st inning was particularly frustrating, as Matt Joyce hustled out an infield single to lead off, then hustled to third on a single by Semien, but then hustled a bit too much on an ensuing grounder to first and got thrown out at the plate for the inaugural TOOTBLAN of the year. Granted, it took a good play by Pujols to get him, but with nobody out it wasn’t worth the risk. Give the next batter a chance with a runner on third and one out.

Finally, in the 5th inning, Oakland broke through against Richards. He’d begun to lose his control, walking Joyce and Semien, and this time the A’s didn’t let him off the hook. With two outs, and two strikes on Khris Davis, Richards missed badly with a fastball and it got Khrushed. Two pitches later, he left a breaking ball up against Matt Olson, and that also ended poorly for him. Exit velocity: 113 mph.

Richards had been one strike away from escaping with his 4-0 lead intact, but just like that the game was tied. Pujols quickly gave the Angels another lead with his homer, but Oakland answered back in the 7th on consecutive singles by Semien, Jed Lowrie, and Khrush.

The game was knotted 5-5 heading into the 8th, and it stayed that way for a while. For as shaky as Graveman had been, the A’s bullpen was lights out. Ryan Buchter breezed through the 6th, dispatching some tough lefties, and Yusmeiro Petit made short work of the 7th and 8th. Blake Treinen also contributed two innings, navigating through minor turbulence, and even Chris Hatcher escaped a jam by striking out Mike Trout with two runners on base. All told, the pen put up a combined line of 6 ip, 0 runs, 6 Ks, 1 BB, 6 hits, and it was their effort that kept things in check long enough for the lineup to find the one final run it needed.

That search ended in the 11th. The lineup had struggled to get anything going against the Angels bullpen, including a stretch in which 10 straight batters were retired, but No. 9 hitter Boog Powell managed some solid contact and used his wheels to turn it into a triple.

The Angels walked Joyce to at least give themselves a chance for an inning-ending GIDP, and up came Semien with a runner on third and one out. The Angels employed a fancy shift, but he managed to poke the ball into the emptiest center field you’ve ever seen to bring home Boog and seal the win. It was the fourth Opening Day walk-off in Oakland history (1972, 1982, 1984).

According to my math, the A’s are now on pace to go 162-0 this year.

Key lines

A few notable performances in the box score:

Graveman: 5 ip, 5 runs, 1 K, 0 BB, 7 hits, 3 HR

  • It worked out this time, but this performance doesn’t instill confidence in the questionable rotation.

Bullpen: 6 ip, 0 runs, 6 Ks, 1 BB, 6 hits

  • Buchter (1 inning), Petit (2), Treinen (2), Hatcher (1), combining for a quality start in relief. This might have been the true difference in the game. Petit was particularly good, retiring 6-of-7 batters in exactly the kind of multi-inning performance we’ve been hoping to see from him.

Khrush: 2-for-5, HR, 4 RBI, K
Olson: 1-for-5, HR, RBI, 3 Ks

  • The heart of the lineup came through in this one, with the back-to-back homers that turned the tide and launched Oakland back into the game. For Khrush, it’s the second year in a row he’s homered on Opening Day. For Olson, the dinger came on his birthday, leading to the kind of obscure record that baseball is famous for.
  • The duo made some A’s history, too.

Joyce: 1-for-4, 2 BB
Semien: 3-for-5, BB, RBI

  • The table-setters did their jobs, reaching base seven times between them. They both held their own in the field, and Semien even looked slick at times. And of course, Semien played hero at the end, notching the first walk-off hit of his career. Is this the year he finally breaks out?

Powell: 2-for-5, 3B, 2B

  • Boog is getting a well-deserved chance in CF while top prospect Dustin Fowler prepares in Triple-A, and he picked up his pesky hitting right where he left off last summer. He slapped a BABIP double down the 3B foul line, and then legged out a triple to set up the winning run. He did slip up once on defense, failing to play the carom on a ball that Stephen Piscotty couldn’t quite reach in the right-center gap (probably turning a double into a triple), but he more than made up for it at the plate.

Jonathan Lucroy: 1-for-5

  • After going 0-for-the-spring in 21 plate appearances, the free agent addition singled in his first at-bat of the regular season.

Shohei Ohtani: 1-for-5

  • He made his MLB debut on the offensive side of the ball, serving as DH. He singled on the first pitch he saw (video link), but then was quiet for the rest of the day. He’ll make his pitching debut on Sunday, starting the final game of the series.

Mike Trout: 0-for-6

  • LOL

The A’s are back Friday evening with Game 2 of the season, featuring lefties Sean Manaea vs. Tyler Skaggs. For now, though, I leave you with the first pie of the year. Enjoy!