The Oakland A’s swept the Tigers over the weekend, and there was much rejoicing. This wasn’t just an ordinary three-game triumph, though. It came with some historical achievements attached.
I intended to do this article Monday morning, but was derailed by two August trades back-to-back in under 24 hours. These amazing facts can’t be ignored, though, so here they are. Let us bask in their warm glow.
1. No earned runs allowed
The teams played three games, from Friday to Sunday, but the first one went deep into extra innings. All told, they completed 31 innings of baseball, and when the dust settled Detroit had not scored a single earned run.
The Tigers did squeak one run across on Saturday, but it was due to a defensive error by Oakland. The first batter of the game hit a popup to shallow left, and two defenders collided and let it drop. An RBI single later scored the errant runner for an unearned run. That was all they got for the entire weekend, which led to this amazing fact:
The #Athletics did not allow an earned run in this three-game series against Detroit...the last time time the A's did not allow an earned run in a three-game series was April 19-23, 1918 at Washington.— Mike Selleck (@MikeSelleck) August 5, 2018
Granted, Detroit has one of the worst offenses in the league. Among AL teams only the Royals score fewer runs per game, and the Tigers’ 81 wRC+ is last in all of MLB. To put that into context, Jonathan Lucroy is at 77 and Josh Phegley is at 83. Matt Joyce is at 87 in a terrible off-year marred by injury. Detroit is bad at hitting, so shutting them down isn’t a feat in and of itself.
But it’s been a full century since an A’s team did it to this extent. They’ve faced a lot of bad teams and weak lineups over that time, but everyone scores eventually. The Mariners have been at 90 wRC+ or below six times since 2005, and Oakland plays six series against them every year, always in an expansive pitcher’s park. They always find a way to score at least once, because even one shutout is tough to pull off — much less two or three. And the Tigers even got four extra frames to work with last weekend.
What makes this even wilder is the pitchers who pulled it off. The A’s rotation fell apart so thoroughly in the spring and early summer that they’ve turned to three veteran cast-offs to fill in. Trevor Cahill signed a $1 million deal in mid-March, while Brett Anderson and Edwin Jackson arrived on minor league contracts. They’ve more than held their own, though, and in this series they upgraded from serviceable to dominant.
Anderson started Friday and began with five perfect innings, eventually finishing with seven frames overall. Jackson went Saturday and lasted into the 7th. Neither of them even needed 80 pitches to breeze through those innings. Cahill only went six, but he struck out 10 batters along the way. The bullpen put in good work too, but the performance of the starters led the charge and was nothing short of brilliant.
Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean the resurgent veterans will continue to put up zeroes henceforth against tougher competition, which is one reason the A’s still went out and got Mike Fiers. But the point is that they did in these games, and they helped set an incredible Oakland record along the way.
2. Season sweeps
Not only did the A’s sweep the Tigers last weekend, but they also did so in their other series in Detroit back in June. The two clubs played four games in the Motor City, and the green and gold won them all — including two of the best comebacks of the season.
Put it all together and Oakland swept the entire seven-game season series from the Tigers. That is impressive in itself. But then consider that the A’s also swept all seven games against the Blue Jays, four away in May and three at home just before the Tigers came to town. That leads to yet another amazing fact:
In the first 117 years of #Athletics baseball, the A's swept two season series of seven or more games (NYY in 1990, BAL in 2004)...they have now done it twice in year number 118 (TOR and DET).— Mike Selleck (@MikeSelleck) August 5, 2018
Twice in over a century, and then twice more in just over two months. You’ve got to be kidding me. And on top of all that, they also swept all four interleague games against the Padres, and are halfway to sweeping all six against the doormat Orioles (with three contests to go in September).
The A’s have now won 12 straight games against Detroit going back to May 2017, which itself breaks a franchise record set back in 1902. Again, the Tigers are bad and they were last year too, but they’ve been bad before in the last over a century and the A’s still never did this extent of nonstop damage to them.
The best part? Both of the historically vanquished opponents left their conquerors with a prize. After the first Blue Jays sweep in Toronto, the A’s claimed reliever Carlos Ramirez off waivers from them (he’s at Triple-A Nashville now). The morning after the final Tigers game, Oakland acquired Fiers from them.
When I rowed crew in college, one custom was that if you beat another boat in an official race then they have to take the uniform shirt off their back and give it to you as a trophy. I’ve still got a couple of those tanks in my closet. That’s how hard the A’s beat these two teams. They each had to let Oakland keep one of their players immediately afterward.
3. Ramon Laureano
Much has been said, written, and fantasized about Laureano’s debut weekend. He showed off a potential five-tool skill set, played the hero on Friday, put together a three-hit game on Sunday, and overall made a wonderful (if imperfect) first impression. But along the way, he also made some history.
In his MLB debut on Friday, Laureano was retired in each of his first four at-bats but then came up big in the last one. With two on and two out, he knocked his first career hit into the gap for a walk-off victory. That brings us his first of two amazing facts:
Since RBI became official stat in 1920, Ramón Laureano is first A’s player to have walkoff RBI hit for first MLB hit & first since Kyle Farmer (LAD, 7/30/17). Laureano is 2nd Dominican-born player to have walkoff RBI hit for first MLB hit (also: NYY’s Alfonso Soriano, 9/24/99).— AthleticsPR (@AthleticsPR) August 4, 2018
Never before in nearly a century had anyone done that for the A’s. Some players homer for their first hit. Some go deep in their first career at-bat, like Terry Steinbach, or even on their very first pitch, like Bert Campaneris. But to have your first career hit straight-up win the entire game? That’s something else.
The scene was set for Laureano’s heroics in the previous inning, when he lit a fire on defense and then put it out. He let a catchable fly ball land for a hit due to miscommunication with his teammate, but then later in the inning he threw out that very runner at third base with an eye-popping laser. An outfield assist in his debut! Nice.
But then, on Saturday, he notched another one. This time he dove for a tough liner but just barely missed it, and the runner decided to go for the hustle play and stretch his fortunate hit into a double. Laureano had other plans, though, and he got up, grabbed the ball, and threw to second base to nab the runner. The result was his other amazing fact:
Ramon Laureano is the first player in Oakland #Athletics history with an outfield assist in each of the first two games of his career.— Mike Selleck (@MikeSelleck) August 5, 2018
This one is Oakland history so it only goes back 50 years instead of 100 or more, but still. The A’s have brought up a lot of players with a lot of good arms, but no one has ever shown them off this quickly before. Both plays required Laureano to sort of mess something up first to set them up (Cespedesque!), and both were bang-bang plays aided by the runners failing to stay on the base after their slides, but those are details and at the end of the day they don’t take away from the accomplishment.
Laureano isn’t guaranteed to pan out as an MLB player, but his first series was one for the history books.
Bonus: Playoff standings
This last part isn’t any kind of all-time record like the others, but it’s amazing nonetheless so it merits some giddy mention. Our little rebuilding club, which was supposed to be in its bridge year, is instead right in the thick of postseason contention. Even after the other competitors all won on Monday while the A’s were off, the standings are still unbelievable.
|#||Wild Card||AL West|
|1||Yankees (+3)||Astros (-)|
|2||A's (-)||A's (-4.5)|
|3||Mariners (-2)||Mariners (-6.5)|
That’s the whole field. No other team is even within 10 games of either postseason ticket. The A’s control one of the Wild Card spots in August, and they are legitimately within striking distance of a division that no one in the world thought would be in question. The only thing that can stand in their way is a currently faltering Mariners squad, and the amount by which they trail the Astros and Yankees is equal or lesser to the number of head-to-head matchups they have left against each (six vs. HOU, and three vs. NYY). This is all with around 50 games to go for each club.
Amazing. Incredible. Unreal. Any number of words can apply here, but the only ones that really sum it all up are: Holy Toledo!