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Game #57: A’s ride Mengden gem, Matt Trick to victory

All three Matts homered as the A’s avoided being swept by the Rays.

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

After a horrible home stand the A’s were given some hope today as Khris Davis, their slugger who has hit 42 and 43 homers over in each of the last two seasons, was activated from the 10-day disabled list. Everyone was hoping that the A’s lost offense, an offense that had literally gone missing just as Davis was being put on the 10-day disabled list with a Grade 1 groin strain, would return. Could it be a coincidence? One would be inclined to think so, but maybe there was a bit more to it than that — or then again maybe not. It will take a few more games to really figure it out. Although as the game transpired today with Davis back in the lineup, it certainly didn’t feel like just a coincidence.

*** Click here to revisit today’s Game Thread! ***

In nine games without their most powerful hitter the team that had scored 60 runs during their previous 10 games, had scored just 15 runs since returning home where they were playing teams that are competitive but not in the way that the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are tough to compete with. These were also the only nine games that the A’s had been forced to play without Davis since he came over in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers prior to the 2016 season.

A Healthy Davis Begins The A’s Second Inning Rally:

Naturally (or maybe it was some kind of Khrush magic? You can never be sure!), it was Davis who began the A’s scoring and second inning rally by leading off with a double. It was his first at-bat back with the club. A lucky coincidence? Most likely but still, a bit of an eerie one, don’t you think? A batter later Chad Pinder drew a walk on a six-pitch at-bat that ended up knocking Ray’s reliever Ryne Stanek, who started the game, out after just an inning and a third.

Stanek was replaced by Ryan Yarbrough proceded to give up a double to Stephen Piscotty that plated both Davis and Pinder. It was then Mark Canha’s turn at the plate and he too got a hit, singling to center and allowing Piscotty to score the inning’s third run and final run of the second. The A’s were now up 3-0 and finally, it seemed that they were back in business. In that one inning they had scored the same number of runs as they had in their previous three games combined.

Mengden Pitches Another Gem:

In his last start Daniel Mengden pitched a two-hit complete game shutout against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He came within three outs of pitching what would have been a his second consecutive complete game — this time allowing just three hits while holding the Rays scoreless through the first eight innings. He was nearing 100 pitches going in to pitch the ninth, but after allowing three straight hits: singles to C.J Chron and Joey Wendle and a two-RBI double to Wilson Ramos A’s manager Bob Melvin decided to go to his bullpen.

With Ramos on second and Mengden having just thrown his 102nd pitch, Melvin called upon Josh Lucas, the winner of last Tursday’s bullpen game, to take the mound. Lucas did mange to get two strikeouts in the top of the ninth but he had already inherited a runner, Ramos, on second base and he then issued a walk to Brad Miller. After Christian Arroyo doubled off of Lucas, a hit that plated Ramos and advanced Miller to third, Melvin thought the safest thing to do would be to being in closer Blake Treinen. Treinen has been dominant since coming to the A’s mid-season last year in the trade that sent Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to the Washington Nationals. Treinen needed just a single pitch to Johnny Field to end the game. Field popped it up and Pinder made and incredible barehanded catch to end the game.

There Was Another Matt Trick!

So you are probably wondering how it was that the A’s came to defeat the Rays by the score of 7-3. The first three runs for the A’s and the only three runs for the Rays have already been accounted for but where did the other four runs come from? It came in the form of what we in Oakland are now calling a Matt Trick (like a hat trick in hockey!)! Each of the team’s three players named Matt - Matt Olson, Matt Chapman and Matt Joyce hit a homer during the later innings of the game.

During the bottom of the seventh inning we may have seen part of the reason having Davis in the lineup is so important. He hits between Olson and Chapman. While all three of them can hit for power, Davis is by far the most dangerous. Both Olson and Chapman were thrown pitches they were able to see and hit a long distance. With Davis in between them the opposing pitchers don’t have the option to accidentally walk all three of them by throwing them pitches outside of the zone that he hopes they will swing at. It forces the pitcher to throw the ball inside the strike zone giving at least one of the A’s three best power threats a chance to homer and in this case two of them did and runs four and five for the A’s crossed home plate.

When Joyce hit his ball out of the yard, Piscotty had already drawn a walk, allowing runs six and seven for the Athletics to cross home plate, virtually assuring the victory.

The Return of the A’s Offense?

We can only hope this means that their offense had returned from it’s 10-day vacation (Nice of it to let us know, right? I’d already started printing out my missing flyers to help find it and bring it home!). It may be only a coincidence that it returned just when Davis did, but I don’t think so. Whether it was a kind of confidence he brought to the team or the way he provides protection in the lineup or simply the fact that he makes quite a bit of hard contact - it doesn’t matter as long as he remains healthy and in the lineup the A’s offense may be back for good.