The 2018 Oakland A’s have made a habit of late-inning comebacks, but they took it to another level on Tuesday. The Rangers jumped all over them in the middle innings, and the A’s entered the 7th trailing 10-2. They won anyway, scoring 11 unanswered runs to earn a 13-10 victory in extras.
It doesn’t take deep analysis to see why that’s exciting. A blowout loss was turned into a thrilling victory in the midst of a tight playoff race. But what makes this so special is that it wasn’t that special. It was just a more extreme version of what we’ve been watching all season long. For example ...
Working the opposing starter
One of the hallmarks of this A’s team has been the return of Lawyerball. The hitters work deep counts, foul off lots of pitches, and make the other pitcher work in every at-bat, all of which has caught the attention of opposing managers like Boston’s Alex Cora and Houston’s A.J. Hinch. Only the Dodgers see more pitches per plate appearance in all of MLB.
That was on display again on Tuesday. Even when Mike Minor was succeeding, it took him forever to do so. Through the first four innings he faced just two batters over the minimum, but it took him 75 pitches. Oakland didn’t score in the 5th, but they dragged out the inning long enough to push Minor’s count over 100. Here’s his breakdown by inning:
1st: 20 pitches (1-2-3 inning)
2nd: 19 pitches (1-2-3 inning)
3rd: 18 pitches (one quick HR)
4th: 18 pitches (one quick HR)
5th: 29 pitches (six batters)
Minor faced 20 batters, and only three of them resolved in fewer than four pitches. Two of those quick at-bats were the two solo homers (Mark Canha and Jed Lowrie), and the other was a comebacker by Matt Chapman that turned into an error by Minor himself. The 5th would have gone by more efficiently if Minor had converted that out, but the damage had already been done to his pitch count. Even his five strikeouts came at a cost, as they required 4, 11, 7, 4, and 7 pitches on their own (33 pitches for five outs). By comparison, A’s starter Frankie Montas faced two extended rallies and still got through five frames in 77 pitches.
It wasn’t an accident that Oakland got to the Rangers’ bullpen so early. Minor was holding his own and actually departed with the lead. But even when the A’s weren’t actively scoring, they were still doing productive work that helped set up their later heroics.
The Coliseum has always been friendly to pitchers, but this year everyone has found it particularly difficult to hit there. It’s been the toughest place in the AL to score or to go deep. Fortunately, the A’s play half their games on the road, and their bats have found much more success everywhere except Oakland.
Again, this isn’t a new story line. Back in June, the A’s set an MLB record by homering in 27 straight road games, and their total of 93 leads the sport by a wide margin. The runner-up Cardinals have 78, and the gap between first and second place is bigger than the gap between second and 10th. Nobody gives out souvenirs to opposing fans as much as Oakland does.
Tuesday brought more of the same. After Canha and Lowrie found the seats early in the evening, Stephen Piscotty tied it in the 9th with a solo homer (the second time he’s done that on the road this year) and Khris Davis won it with a blast in the 10th. All of this came the night after dropping 15 runs on these same Rangers, and it was a franchise-record third straight game with four dingers (albeit the first came at home) (via Susan Slusser, S.F. Chronicle).
The homer by Lowrie was his 17th, setting a career-high on July 24. Only three of them have come at home. Piscotty’s dinger gave Keone Kela his first blown save since May of 2017, ending a streak of 36 straight save/hold conversions.
Capitalizing on walks
While the homers were the memorable part, the truth is Oakland walked back into this game. That’s not a surprise considering what we already covered about the hitters working tough at-bats against opposing pitchers. When the other team can’t find the zone, the A’s are perfectly happy to sit back and let them beat themselves.
We saw it against the Angels, when reliever Noe Ramirez entered with a 3-2 lead but handed out two walks and two HBPs on route to a one-hit, three-run, game-winning rally. We saw it again at the hands of the Giants, when Madison Bumgarner lost control and issued four walks in the span of five batters. The third and fourth bases-loaded walks of his entire career turned a 1-0 Giants lead into a 2-1 Oakland advantage (and eventual victory).
It happened again on Tuesday. In the 7th, with a 10-2 lead, Texas’ mopup Mann walked the first two batters of the inning to gift-wrap a free rally. They both wound up scoring as part of a three-run frame. In the 8th, setup man Jake Diekman got the first out but then walked the bases loaded. All three scored despite the A’s notching just one hit, with one of the runs coming home on another HBP. The score went from 10-2 to 10-9 on just four total Oakland hits.
Part of those late “rallies” was simply the Rangers being a last-place team with shaky pitching. But part of it was the A’s not giving in, making the opponent earn everything, and then waltzing to victory when Texas wasn’t up to the task. It’s not a coincidence that this keeps happening.
Another late comeback
Whereas 2012 was the Year of the Walk-Off, this has become more generally the Year of the Late Comeback. This is now the 13th time the 2018 A’s have come back from a deficit in the 7th inning or later to turn a loss into a win. That’s not even counting late ties, but strictly times they were trailing in the final frames.
While these heroics aren’t anything new during this wild summer, they certainly upped the ante this time. According to David Schoenfield of ESPN, this is the first time since 2012 that any team entered the 7th inning trailing by eight runs and came back to earn a victory. The leading club had converted the win 761 times in a row in such situations, until last night. In a slightly different twist on that statement, the mark was 1,684 straight wins when leading by eight runs in the 7th inning or later (via ESPN Stats & Info). It was the first time in Rangers franchise history that they’d allowed this big of a comeback this late in a game, breaking a streak of 471 wins (via ESPN Stats & Info).
The Win Probability chart was pure art. The Rangers’ odds of victory were at 99.5% after Elvis Andrus’ grand slam in the 6th, and they were still at 98.7% entering the 8th with a five-run lead.
This is the way the A’s season is going, and it’s marvelous to watch. Oakland is never out of a game, and never even out of an at-bat, until it’s truly over. They keep pushing the boundary of what they can come back from, and now they’ve reached historic levels in that regard, all with their own elite lockdown bullpen to prevent anyone else from returning the favor. At this point you can really never turn off the TV until the final out has been squeezed, because no lead is safe against the green and gold.
Of course, there’s still one comeback left to finish. Anyone want to bet against it?