On a bright and sunny day in Cleveland, the A’s mix talent with a smidge of luck, the acceptance of gifts, and a wild and crazy strikezone to take the game, series, and season series from the AL Central leading Indians. The team now has won fifty games and are ten games over .500.
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. Sometimes ugly execution can lead to a shutdown performance. Sometimes talent trumps all.
Shane Bieber was making his sixth start in the major leagues, and with a fastball that darts to the corners and a bulldog approach, the rookie looks as though he will be sticking around in the big leagues for a long time. Entering today’s game, his ERA stood at 2.97 over his first five starts, racking up the third most strikeouts in history for rookie Indians’ pitchers in their first five big league starts. He is no slouch, and runs were going to be at a premium.
So the A’s were ever fortunate when a Mark Canha pop up to shortstop in the first inning got lost in the sun, dropping harmlessly for a single. This allowed Khris Davis to have a chance to bat in the inning, and he took advantage by lining a double between the left and center fielders that hopped all the way to the wall, allowing Canha to score easily. The double extended Davis’ hitting streak to ten games, which is rather impressive for someone who had been mired in a slump as recently as last week.
It helped that the strike zone shriveled up and bloated out seemingly at random all game, because Davis likely would have been called out on strikes if the zone stayed consistent.
In the second, it looked as if the A’s were going to squander yet another leadoff double, one off the bat of Matt Chapman. A productive ground out and an unproductive strikeout got Chapman to third base, but after Fowler chopped a ground ball to first, the ball impressively snared by a diving Edwin Encarnacion, it looked like the run scoring opportunity would go for naught. However, E3 E5’d as he fumbled the ball on the transfer and allowed Fowler to reach first safely, driving in Chapman. Once again fortune smiled upon the A’s.
One would be remiss to not be a little apprehensive about Brett Anderson making the start for the A’s, the lefty veteran having been shaky in three of four of his starts this year before hitting the DL, and was only making the start today to replace Paul Blackburn, who himself is now sidelined for the time being with an injury of his own.
Anderson’s fastball lacked life and velocity and his location was spotty, but Anderson’s slider still looked like a devastating pitch that is impossible for any big leaguer to hit when it is on. It was this combination of pitches that got Anderson his success today. Going up against a lineup that had Brandon Guyer, batting a buck fifty at the plate, fifth in the order and Rajai Davis sixth, it wasn’t Cleveland’s A-team lineup on the field, but Cleveland has still been one of the toughest teams to defeat when playing in Cleveland.
Despite the Indians always feeling like they were just a moment away from breaking through against Anderson and taking a commanding lead, that break through never came. After a 1-2-3 first inning, an error and double put runners on second and third with no outs in the second. Aided partially by the aforementioned wild and crazy strike zone and partially by a rookie number-eight hitter with one home run on the year chasing a 3-0 pitch out of the zone, Anderson got out of the jam unscathed, inducing two easy fly balls and getting a strikeout. Anderson retired six in a row with a clean third inning.
The lefty ran into trouble again in the fourth. A pop fly into no man’s land landed between three Athletics for a hit, and Anderson made matters worse by walking two guys in the weak bottom half of the Indians’ order. Once again, Anderson works out of the jam without allowing a single runner to score, and for good measure had a quick and clean fifth inning that gave Bob Melvin the confidence to let Anderson return to the hill for the sixth.
After allowing a leadoff single in the sixth, Anderson was pulled, giving him a final line of five-plus innings, three hits, two walks, three strikeouts, and, most importantly, no runs allowed. While Anderson was on the mound, the team had a lot of good fortune to put them ahead, once Anderson was relieved by Yusmeiro Petit, the talent on the roster took over for the rest of the game.
While Bieber had settled down and was having little problem retiring A’s bats in the middle innings, in the sixth it looked clear that he was either tiring or was no longer fooling A’s batters. Khrush led the frame off with a single and Matt Olson hit a rocket to right field that was unfortunately caught. Piscotty then stayed hot with a fly ball home run to right field that just kept carrying and carrying until it landed just beyond the field of play. The A’s lead doubled to 4-0 and only had the Indians’ soft-bullpen underbelly between them and victory.
Runs were tacked on in the seventh and eighth innings as well, most notably when Jed Lowrie hit one of the lowest, flattest home runs this season. The home run was Lowrie’s sixteenth this season, tying his career high with months still to go in the regular season. The eighth saw a small two out rally started by Phegley walking, and Fowler and Canha singling to bring him home for a sixth run.
Petit only allowed one baserunner in two innings pitched, getting a few strikeouts along the way, looking every bit like his old, dominant self from just earlier this season. Following him up, as the game slowly tilted more in the A’s favor, Ryan Buchter and Emilio Pagan each only allowed one baserunner in clean innings for themselves, and the Indians just never had a chance to score. The game ended quietly 6-0. The A’s won this series as well as the overall season series, and now have a nice, round fifty wins on the year with nearly half the season to play.