Regardless of anything else we might want to discuss about tonight’s game, the A’s season, strategy, or future, indulge me and take a minute to let it soak in that the 2018 Oakland Athletics, a team that would have considered a .500 season a win this year, just won their 93rd game (32 over .500) with 8 games still to play and a Magic Number of three.
The A’s have been the must-watch daily program since mid-June, with exciting, fun, meaningful games and outstanding comeback wins (tonight was no exception) and as we close this incredibly special season, no matter what happens, it has been a hell of a ride. No expectations, no aces, no mercenaries, no pressure; just fun, great ball, and more wins than losses.
Khris Davis’ MLB-leading 45th home run, which bookended his 44th from the first inning, walked the game off for the A’s, after a huge pinch-hit home run by Mark Canha dramatically tied the game at six, after the A’s bullpen blew the early 4-0 lead. Despite a rare six-run inning, the rest of the bullpen, including an outstandingly perfect two innings from Blake Treinen, held the Twins scoreless long enough for the A’s to walk it off in bonus baseball, about what you would expect in the very last weekend of regular season baseball in Oakland before a crowd of nearly 28,000.
It was amazing; it was glorious. Let’s bask in the just plain FUN of meaningful September baseball where we are literally in a weekend in which the A’s can clinch a playoff spot in the 2018 season.
Now that we’ve done that, let’s talk.
So, as we knew it would be, from pretty much the moment Spring Training started until now; the last week of the season, the A’s offense has been all-world elite. This is an offense that scored three touchdowns and three extra points in yesterday’s game, and found themselves needing another touchdown (capped off by one extra point) tonight just to compete in the game. Of course, six runs isn’t insurmountable for the A’s, who didn’t blink when they blew a 4-run lead, after the excitement of Khris Davis’ MLB-leading 44th home run, that didn’t even touch the mind-blowing frenzy of the later two-run blast from Mark Canha to tie the game at 6 that nearly brought the house down, which still didn’t come close to the noise of the house actually being brought down for Davis’ second home run, the game-winning blast in extras to walk it off. All three moments were beautiful.
And it’s so much sweeter because it is so unexpected.
In March, the 2018 Oakland Athletics might as well have been billed as “Gonna lose a lot of 7-6 games”.
What Spring Training didn’t take into account was just how incredible the offense would be, and on a night when the A’s spun yet another barn-burner into the comeback of the week, it was on full display. Starring a different hero every night; sometimes a different hero every inning, the A’s will finish this season and the games beyond on the strength of their offense. But that was always the case. What no one saw coming was how elite, perfect, and amazing the bullpen, led by closer Blake Treinen, would turn out to be; so good in fact, that they would nearly replace the starting pitching staff, or more accurately, take over half of their innings.
The bullpen “opener” hasn’t been a popular move around these parts, but I think it’s just a different iteration of what the A’s—by necessity mind you—have been doing all along. Once again tonight, the A’s got to the four horsemen in the sixth inning and from where I sit, it’s not that Liam Hendriks shouldn’t have started the game, or that Bassitt is the guy that’s going to give you 5-6 one-hit innings instead of the four he was allowed, it’s that Trivino is not who he used to be. A horseman is down. From mid-June to the end of August, the A’s were winning all games in which Trivino kicked off the late-inning apocalypse in the sixth. It is he who has changed, not the A’s.
If you’re going to pick apart the A’s limited--having maybe a combined one-fifth of a normal MLB starting rotation--options, let’s start with how no one who manages such things has noticed that Trivino’s early work has caught up to him; he’s allowed something like 18 ERs in his last 22 innings. Yet without his hard work, the A’s aren’t on the verge of clinching a Wild Card spot either, and yet, here we are.
So while the offense has been tasked with winning the remainder of the games, the A’s have dropped all pretense of a “typical” game. The (collective) A’s pitching staff has to hold the opponent to just one run fewer. Forget quality starts, no-hitters, wins or even five innings, the A’s are looking for bodies to pitch innings, and I can’t say I blame them for trying to come up with a system to mask their notable lack of starting pitchers, good or otherwise. Yes, I would have let Bassitt (one-hit!) start the sixth (his fifth), and I would have used care in putting Trivino in; although with a four-run lead, I would argue the A’s did. If Kelley makes just one better pitch, ideally one that wasn’t smoked for a three-run double, the sixth ends with the A’s up 4-3 and the combination of Buchter, Familia, and just one inning of Treinen wins the game in nine.
All that to say, I have no idea how to play the Wild Card game. Both of our only “real” starters have the possibility of being shelled in the first, or they could pitch seven strong, but in a winner-take-all, one-game playoff, I’m not sure on whom to bet. And if you do win it, and are granted at least three more, I think the A’s do what they do, and pin their playoff hopes on strength in numbers and the likelihood of one of their guys hitting the ball out of the park. It’s a shaky strategy to be sure, but I’d rather be thinking about October than counting down until the end of the season, so meaningful games it is! The A’s are nothing if not surprising this season, and maybe, just maybe, they keep the magic (because that’s what it is) going just a little bit longer.
On to tonight’s game. Hendriks did indeed start, allowed a hit and a walk, but struck out two to end the inning scoreless. Bassitt was terrific in his four innings, and if I managed tonight, he starts the sixth, no question. In his four innings, he allowed just one hit and one walk, while striking out five. Meanwhile, the A’s built him a nice lead; a first inning two-out walk by Jed Lowrie put a baserunner on for Khris Davis’ 44th home run to give the A’s the 2-0 lead. In the second inning, one-out singles by Laureano and Semien put runners at the corners, and a shallow sac fly by Lucroy scored Laureano from third to give the A’s the 3-0 lead. They would add on in the fourth, but as they are wont to do, left runners at third. Piscotty led off the inning by being hit by the pitch and on an 0-2 count, Laureano singled him to third to put runners at first and third with no outs. Semien’s sacrifice fly did everything it needed to; scored the runner from third and moved the runner on second to third with one out, but Lucroy’s popup was unexciting. Martini did draw a walk, but Chapman grounded out to end the inning, leaving the A’s with just the 4-0 lead.
We go to the sixth. Enter Lou Trivino. Cue a home run and two singles.
Exit Lou Trivino, Enter Sean Kelley. Cue a double, a 4-3 game, and an intentional walk to load the bases, right in front of a bases-clearing double. At least the batter had the good sense to get himself out between second and third, because I’m not sure that combination of pitchers tonight ended the inning at just six scored.
The A’s, once leading 4-0, find themselves in a 6-4 hole, in which absolutely everyone else on the scoreboard that matters has won by this time.
The A’s wasted no time in crying over spilled leads. Piscotty walked to lead off the sixth inning and after two strikeouts and two pitching changes (sorrynotsorry, Matt Joyce, who was announced and replaced), Mark Canha stepped to the plate. And absolutely tattooed a home run to tie the game, and ran around the bases with no small amount of emotion. And just when the game felt like it might have slipped away, you knew the A’s would somehow get that seventh run to win. And I never considered that the Twins would score again. They didn’t.
Buchter was perfect in his inning; Familia was nearly perfect in his, but the real pitching star tonight was Treinen, who pitched to six up, six down and set the table for his win. The A’s; collecting wins for relief pitchers since early 2018. A missed call in the eighth denied Olson a lead-off double (he later walked), but the A’s couldn’t score; they squandered a walk in the ninth, as well, but it took one batter in the tenth. Khris Davis led off the inning, and sent everyone home on the third pitch he saw.
Enjoy the celebration.
I will be your host again tomorrow night, where we will see a real starting pitcher. The A’s will throw Mike Fiers against the Twins’ Chase de Jong. I will see you back here at 6:05. LET’S GO OAK-LAND!