Hooooooooooooooollllllllllly cannoooooooooooooli what a win by the A’s! And on a Friday night, no less, almost as if, on a hot summer August night, the baseball universe decided to make up for all the Friday night bores by throwing me the most dramatic, most incredible, if not most magical, certainly most important, win in the 2018 season, but really the best win since roughly the All Star break four years ago. The stakes are always doubled when you go up against the team you’re chasing; because you gain and lose whole games every night. And with the A’s chasing two, but eyeing the coveted single game deficit, it was all on the line tonight.
In a less magical season, and I genuinely don’t know what else to call it, because nights like tonight don’t turn up green and gold except when there is just that something in the air, the A’s lose tonight’s game 3-2; a bitter loss after the big hit was (finally!) delivered by Nick Martini as the tying run was thrown out at the plate on a near-perfect relay by the Astros after a previous defensive gem already stole the first out of the inning.
Instead, on an as-close-as-it-could-possibly-be replay call of all things, the out call was turned to safe, tying the game for the A’s, and granting the delirious crowd, not to mention the players on the field, bonus baseball, which lasted for exactly one A’s batter before Matt Olson sent everyone but the Astros home happy.
In order to truly appreciate the magnitude of tonight’s win, especially for those who weren’t able to see the game live, the best I can describe innings 1 through 8 is a microcosm of A’s playoff runs from 2000 - 2014. Because, we know; we do, the A’s kryptonite. Their run to challenge the AL West crown was built on their bullpen, yes, but on the backs of their surprising extraordinary offensive talent; tons of hits, runs, and home runs. On the rare occasion that the offense falters, mostly against strong starting pitching, as in the playoffs, or as this week showed, evidenced by the 20+ scoreless innings streak, and the big hit remains elusive, the A’s are forced to find a way to move and score runners without (big or otherwise) hits.
And tonight, it was a near comedy act of futility. The A’s didn’t even put a baserunner on until the fourth inning, by which time Edwin Jackson, throwing gem after gem for the A’s this year (the A’s are 8-2 in his starts) had allowed a solo home run to Alex Bregman to give Houston the early 1-0 lead. Nick Martini walked to open the fourth and with one out, Jed Lowrie singled to put two on, but they didn’t move. Meanwhile, Houston added another solo home run in the fifth, doubling the lead for the Astros and knocking Jackson out of the game after five innings and 89 pitches.
And then, Houston decided to help the A’s. The fifth opened with a ringing double by Stephen Piscotty, and miscues by Bregman (scored a single for Semien) and Correa (Canha reached on an error) loaded the bases with no one out, bringing up Jonathan “Please don’t swing!” Lucroy, who somewhat predictably, hit the first pitch into a tailor-made double-play, its only redemption in that it scored the A’s first run. With two outs and a runner on third, Martini worked another walk, another in a string of terrific at-bats before Matt Chapman worked just about the best at-bat you’ll ever see, nearly doubling down the line before singling down the other to tie the game. Bases loaded (with two-third of the runners put on with help), no one out, two runs in. And that was the very best the A’s could do for the first eight innings.
Houston immediately retook the lead off Lou Trivino in the sixth, as he looked shaky at best, striking out the first batter he saw, but walking the next two, before giving up the tie-breaking single to Josh Reddick. Only the baseball fairy dust got him out of the inning with the single run scoring as he managed to induce an inning-ending double-play out of nowhere.
The A’s sixth inning saw two more runners on with a one-out single by Olson followed by a Piscotty walk, but they came up empty again. It was worse in the eighth as they wasted a lead-off double by Lowrie. Khris Davis walked (read: the umpire did not call his check swing as strike three) to put two on with no one out. But Olson, despite a 3-1 count, was unable to move the runner to third, which means the runner didn’t score to tie the game on Piscotty’s would-be sacrifice fly. And then the Astros sharpened their defense as Bregman made a pretty terrific play to throw Semien out and preserve the Houston lead.
With eight and a half innings in the books, we marveled at the success of Sean Kelley (perfect seventh) and Emilio Pagan (perfect eighth) and Fernando Rodney (perfect ninth), as well as the A’s defense, no slouch themselves, with Matt Chapman making an incredible play both in the third and in the top of the ninth, taking the A’s all the way to the bottom of the ninth inning, needing a run to play on.
The playoff-tested Astros are no strangers to big games; this time it was Correa making the diving, saving play that kept Canha’s ball from being a lead-off hit for the A’s. One out. At this point in the order, (likely, mostly so he couldn’t hit into a double-play despite the bases being empty), Pinder pinch-hit for Lucroy. And worked the biggest walk of the game. He was replaced by the speedy Ramon Laureano at first. And then, finally, after nearly three days of quiet, the A’s got the big hit, in the form of a huge double down the line by Nick Martini, and Laureano was running from first on the play. And then things got a little Eric Byrnes-esque, as there was interference at third? At home? There was a slide and a tag and an “out” call and the A’s hopes were dashed. And felt familiar. And sad. But then, Laureano, who kept running the whole way, through the chaos, who slid perfectly, who tucked his fingers into the plate just a smidge before the tag was applied, who popped up, incensed at the call, pointed emphatically into the dugout; we immediately go to reply, and then the call was...OVERTURNED! It was OVERTURNED! And there wasn’t anyone, including the Astros, who didn’t know that when the game went to extras, the A’s were going to win.
And then they did, as Blake Treinen (near-perfect tenth) struck out the side around a two-out walk, shut down the Astros with flair before the very first batter of the A’s side of extra innings, Matt Olson, teed up a 3-2 fastball for his first career walk-off home run as he won the game, brimming with the confidence of a player who has just put his team exactly one game behind the Division lead.
And it was magical. With the strains of Celebration in the air, and the crowd, announcers, A’s employees, players, and fans alike dancing around in the warm summer night, you could almost see the magic dust swirling around the Coliseum as the A’s take home the win, gaining the high-stakes game on the Astros, as well as a Wild Card game on the Mariners.
And although they currently hold a Wild Card position, that could change tomorrow, as a win tomorrow afternoon would pull the A’s into a TIE FOR THE AL WEST. Of course, Trevor Cahill will have to beat Dallas Keuchel, but then again, the A’s won on an overturned replay call at home tonight followed by a much-needed and much-deserved mammoth blast.
2018. Where anything can happen.
LET’S GO OAK-LAND!