The Oakland A’s and Baltimore Orioles traded zeroes for 11 innings on Saturday, racking up 31 strikeouts between them along the way. Finally, in the bottom 12th, Khris Davis got ahold of a fastball from Pedro Araujo and deposited it deep into the LF seats. The A’s walked off as winners by the score of 2-0.
For the first six innings of the game, the story was Trevor Cahill — or, on this night, Trevor K-Hill. When he came up with the A’s a decade ago, he generally pitched to contact with his sinker and relied more on weak ground balls than strikeouts. These days he’s upped his K game, entering Saturday averaging one per inning just as he had from 2014-17. On this night, though, he took it a step further against the Orioles’ whiffy and surprisingly pathetic lineup.
Cahill faced 22 batters in his six innings of work, and he struck out 12 of them. That broke his previous career-high of 10, and stands as the most by any A’s pitcher in a game since Sonny Gray fanned a dozen in late 2014. (The Oakland record is Vida Blue with 17, though that took him 11 innings. The Oakland record in regulation is Jose Rijo with 16.) Cahill’s final line: 6 ip, 0 runs, 12 Ks, 1 BB, 4 hits.
Oakland #Athletics Most Strikeouts, Six Innings or Fewer— Mike Selleck (@MikeSelleck) May 6, 2018
13 Vida Blue, April 9, 1971 vs. KC
12 Trevor Cahill, May 5, 2018 vs. BAL
12 Steve Karsay, April 26, 1997 vs. KC
What made Cahill’s dominance even more amazing was that he didn’t get much use out of his curveball, which is his primary swing-and-miss pitch. He only threw his curve six times all night, and never for Strike 3. Instead, his sinker and changeup were utterly dominant, with the change in particular earning him a swinging strikeout six times. His sinker finished five Ks as well, thrice freezing the batter for a called Strike 3, and he also got one with his cutter. He was as unhittable as we’ve ever seen him, even with the caveat that Baltimore entered with a measly team wRC+ of 78.
Unfortunately, the A’s lineup was equally hamstrung. They at least made some contact, but through 11 frames they only managed to put four total runners on base. Not once did they put two men aboard in the same inning, and none of the runners even made it as far as second base. They didn’t come close to putting together a rally all night, and from the 6th-thru-12th innings they saw 19 consecutive batters retired. Baltimore starter Kevin Gausman ended up throwing nine scoreless innings in a masterful performance, and then reliever Mychal Givens fanned five of the six batters he faced.
While Oakland was busy doing nothing at the plate, the dregs of the A’s bullpen played unlikely heroes by somehow keeping the Orioles at bay. The first reliever to enter was Yusmeiro Petit, who isn’t one of said dregs but did blow a three-run lead against the same opponent just 24 hours prior. This time around he gutted through two scoreless frames, leaving multiple runners on base both times. Before Saturday he’d faced an MLB-best 70 batters this year without allowing a walk, so of course he issued three in one night, albeit one intentionally.
After Petit exited, things got weird. Santiago Casilla came in to pitch the 9th inning of a tie game, causing A’s fans everywhere to throw up a little in their mouths. In fairness, though, Casilla has actually been pretty good this year, and indeed he breezed through two more frames with little incident. Next up was Danny Coulombe, who is mired in a wretched slump so far. The lefty quickly allowed a hit to powerful righty Mark Trumbo, but then struck out the side and opened the 12th with another K — the team’s 20th of the night.
Oakland #Athletics 20-Strikeout Games by Pitchers— Mike Selleck (@MikeSelleck) May 6, 2018
26 July 9, 1971 vs. CAL (20 inn.)
21 Aug. 6, 2007 at TEX (13 inn.)
20* May 5, 2018 vs. BAL (???)
20 Aug. 10-11, 1972 vs. CWS (19 inn.)
*through one out in the 12th inn.
However, Bob Melvin decided he still hadn’t tempted fate quite enough. After Coulombe finished striking out four straight batters, the manager turned to Chris Hatcher (9.82 ERA, 8.08 FIP) to face the intimidating righties at the top of the lineup. He walked his first batter, because of course he did, but Bruce Maxwell bailed him out by throwing out pinch-runner and former A’s outfielder Craig Gentry on an attempted steal. It was Maxwell’s second nab of the night in three tries, as Oakland’s catcher showed off his arm behind the plate. Hatcher retired the next batter to end the inning.
Finally, in the bottom of the 12th, the A’s woke up and did something. With one out, Jed Lowrie lined a single to CF off Araujo. Khrush worked a 3-0 count, took a strike, and then saw something he liked and unloaded. (Exit velocity: 112.8 mph)
It was the A’s third walk-off hit of the year, and their first by way of dinger. It was Khris’ fifth walk-off hit in green and gold (twice in 2016, twice in 2017), and his third by way of dinger (one each year). According to the team, it was the first time in franchise history that they won a scoreless extra-inning game with a walk-off homer. And, once again, it came on a night when they didn’t put a single runner in scoring position for 11-plus innings before that final at-bat.
Massive credit to Melvin in this one. His bullpen management was unorthodox, but it worked beautifully. He coaxed several productive innings out of the forgotten arms in the pen, and saved his top weapons for another day. It was a bold gamble, and most of us were screaming about it the whole way, but there was some sense to it after the setup/closing crew all put in high-leverage work the night before.
For the second straight evening, the A’s did exactly what an aspiring .500 club needs to do: Beat bad teams. The Orioles have some star muscle in their lineup but aren’t playing like it, and Oakland took full advantage by snatching another game that could have gone either way. On Friday the difference was defense, and on Saturday it was a matter of who could collect the first clutch hit. The A’s succeeded both times, in ways they may not have the last three seasons, and now they hold a winning record at 17-16.
We’ll do it all once more tomorrow afternoon, with Oakland going for the sweep behind former Orioles castoff Andrew Triggs. In the meantime, on this Cinco de Mayo, amid Black Panther bobblehead day at the Coliseum, let’s salute Khrush and enjoy some Saturday night pie.