Baseball, like life, turns on a dime.
Despite the roller-coaster of emotions early in the game, where a combined ten runs were traded between the two clubs, which may have taken some of the edge off the tense playoff atmosphere, it’s hard to overstate the importance of tonight’s game. It was indeed, almost like two different games; the early barn burner through four and the late, tense, battle of the bullpens that for all the world felt like a playoff game. And, after all, as of this very moment, the A’s are playing into September not only in the very thick of a playoff race with two ways in; only a slim 1.5 games standing between them and the AL West crown, even as they keep a tight hold on one of only five coveted playoff spots. It’s far more than we ever expected, even in our wildest dreams, knowing that the A’s have already won 81 games, locking in a winning season with an entire month of baseball still to play. And, oh, are we going to keep enjoying it.
And all this and more on a Friday night to open the holiday weekend, following what was likely one of the A’s worse weeks since mid-June. The A’s built an early 5-run lead in the blink of an eye, but much like all of the starters before him this week, Mike Fiers couldn’t hold it and the glorious 5-0 start became a 5-5 tie before the A’s came to bat in the fourth.
However, the 2018 A’s are nothing if not resilient.
There have been plenty of teams--and plenty of A’s teams, I’d like to add--who would have folded like a cheap deck of cards after the blows dealt to the club this week. The A’s jumped out to a 4-0 lead on their Division rivals in Monday night’s game, and promptly gave up 11 unanswered runs to lose the game, and a game in the standings. Within 24 hours, they would receive the news that they lost not only their ace, Sean Manaea, the only starting pitcher left from the original pitching staff, who also owns a no-hitter this season against the elite Boston Red Sox, but Brett Anderson as well, who lost the game Monday night and then we lost him. The A’s clawed back to win Tuesday’s game by the slimmest of margins, but dropped Wednesday’s—and the overall series—in a game that came with oh so many “what if’s”. And then last night, the A’s opened the series with the Mariners and were buried before they even had a chance to bat, as the Mariners hung a 5-spot on the A’s out of the gate.
Tonight, the A’s returned the favor. After Dustin Fowler grounded out on the first pitch (to set the tone for his 0-5 night), Matt Chapman belted a 2-2 pitch for his 22nd home run of the season to give the A’s a 1-0 lead. Did I mention that baseball turns on a dime? Here’s the watershed moment. The difference between the 1-0 lead and the 5-0 lead came after a two-out Khris Davis walk, a good at-bat in a week of bad ones. Matt Olson hit a deep fly ball that sent Cameron Maybin scrambling, taking a golden retriever route to the ball, which glanced off his glove and over his head, allowing Khris Davis to score for the second run. If that play is made, this game plays out very differently because Piscotty doesn’t follow with a two-run home run to give the A’s the 4-0 lead, and a Ramon Laureano single and a Marcus Semien double won’t plate the fifth. But it wasn’t, and they did and Fiers started his second inning with the 5-0 lead. And interestingly enough (and maybe fortuitously for the A’s), Seattle’s starter, Mike Leake, wasn’t pulled.
The Mariners knocked in a seemingly harmless two-out RBI-single in the second to close the gap to 5-1, without much foreshadowing of what was to come. Meanwhile, Chapman made his usual nightly webgem, as did Laureano (and nearly made two!), in their defense of Fiers, but nothing seemed to mitigate the fourth inning. The inning started out with back-to-back home runs from Cano and Cruz to cut the A’s lead to 5-3, and much like previous games, the runs were scored too quickly to pull the starter. A single and another home run, this one off the bat of Ryon Healy, tied the game. One more single was all Fiers was allowed; Yusmeiro Petit took over with two outs in the fourth, pitching a near-perfect fifth as well.
And then the A’s, who had already scored so effortlessly, dug down and found one more run. Matt Olson (who had three hits on the night) singled to open the fifth; well, for all intents and purposes he doubled, but the second base was considered an error, and the subsequent Piscotty single put runners on first and third; Matt Williams, correctly noting that Olson is, well, I’m not going to say he’s slow...but yes. Yes, I am. He’s slow, and was already thrown out at home in a huge spot in the last two weeks.
Enter rookie Ramon Laureano, who hit a big league, very deep sacrifice fly to score Olson and untie the game, giving the A’s the 6-5 lead.
And then came the very important moment in the sixth inning that gave the slightest of cushions to the bullpen, and that was a Jed Lowrie double and of all things, a Khris Davis single, not a home run, but so very important, that earned the insurance run that allowed the bullpen A-team that one extra pitch; the luxury of a two-run lead.
I simply can’t give enough credit to the A’s straight-up, lights-out, incredible bullpen, who we see pitch nearly every day and we can still find ourselves in awe; the ‘pen was handed a 5-5 tie in the middle of the fourth inning and Seattle did not score again. Every weapon they had was used today; Petit for his inning and a third, Lou Trivino for the sixth, Fernando Rodney for a near-perfect seventh, Jeurys Familia for one of the most electric innings I’ve ever seen; nearly striking out the side in the first go-around, but allowing a hit that Laureano just couldn’t quite grab, and undeterred, continued striking out the side anyway. The eighth inning ended with a flourish, with the A’s best three set-up men each starring in their inning, setting up the ninth for their closer.
And Blake Treinen did not disappoint; he ended the inning in the time it took to log in about 15 comments in the game thread, striking out two of his own. And just like that, the A’s put a 5.5 lead between their Wild Card and the Mariners, but more importantly, gained a whole game against the Houston Astros, who were beaten by the Angels for the second straight night.
Everything came up green and gold tonight, and the A’s showed that while they aren’t perfect; for example, not having a starter turn in a quality start this week; the only one who even finished five was in an already-lost game, they are as resilient of a team as I’ve ever seen. The A’s bounced back from this week to end the month strong and are now heading into September in a honest-to-goodness playoff race.
How’s that for a rebuilding year?
The A’s open September tomorrow at 6:05; and they better come to play; Daniel Mengden vs. James Paxton.
LET’S GO OAK-LAND!