Last week, Martin Gallegos of MLB.com published his list of the A’s top 10 plays from 2019. While he did a fine job and I agreed with parts of his list, I also noticed some significant omissions and other rankings I had issues with.
So I decided I’d try my hand at it. Let’s get right to it.
Honorable Mention: Fernando’s Lone Arrow
I’m really sorry, I couldn’t help myself.
For most, Fernando Rodney’s stint in Oakland was forgettable at best. He was adequate down the stretch in 2018, and rewarded the team’s questionable decision to exercise his 2019 team option by forgetting how to pitch entirely. By the time he was DFA’d on May 25, he had posted a 6.17 ERA over 35 innings with the team, tallying 34 strikeouts against 25 (!!!) walks.
In hindsight — and, to many at the time — the $5 million spent on Rodney’s option should have been spent elsewhere. But to me, one of Rodney’s biggest fans, one night made it all worth it.
On April 1, the A’s turned to Fernando to secure a 7-0 victory against the reigning champion Boston Red Sox. He ended the game with a scoreless ninth inning and, after striking out J.D. Martinez for the game’s final out, fired his iconic arrow for his first — and only — time in an A’s uniform.
The Washington Nationals signed Rodney to a minor league deal just days after he was cut by the A’s, and he quickly became an important part of their bullpen. Fast forward a few months and he’s a World Series champion.
You probably didn’t remember this moment, and it probably won’t stick with you too long going forward. But that’s okay. One of my favorite players did one of his favorite things with my favorite team, and that makes this moment at least worth a mention for me.
Now, on to the real list!
10. Phegasus Stops the Bleeding
In the season’s early months, Josh Phegley looked like a potential breakout for the A’s. The backstop played the best baseball of his career, taking advantage of poor performance by Nick Hundley (remember him?) and a preseason injury to Chris Herrmann to steal the starting role.
Phegley put the cherry on top of his hot start with one incredible performance. On May 3, the team crawled into Pittsburgh after an 0-6 start to the road trip. At 14-19, Oakland’s playoff odds had dipped to just 9.5% according to FanGraphs, and were shrinking every day.
That’s when ‘Phegasus’ put the team on his back.
The 31-year-old led the team to a 14-1 rout of the Pirates, smacking four hits (including two doubles and a home run) and driving in eight runs.
Unfortunately, Phegley couldn’t keep his hot streak going. It proved to be just a mirage, and after finishing the season with an 82 wRC+, he’s now a non-tender candidate this offseason.
But that doesn’t make this one game any less incredible — in fact, it might make it more impressive. This performance serves as a reminder that you truly cannot predict baseball.
9. Jesús Saves
Top prospect Jesús Luzardo didn’t crack the big league roster until September due to a pair of injuries, but his dominant performance over the season’s final weeks gave A’s fans a taste of what to expect in 2020 and beyond.
In Luzardo’s major league debut, he entered with the A’s leading the fearsome Houston Astros 5-2. He allowed a run in his first inning on a solo home run, but otherwise looked as electric as advertised and earned a hold for his three innings of relief. His next appearance was similar, as he earned his first MLB save by allowing a run over three innings against the Texas Rangers.
But to me, his most impressive performance came in his least regular season appearance. On Sept. 28, the A’s found themselves leading the Seattle Mariners 1-0. A win would clinch home field advantage for the AL Wild Card Game, but closer Liam Hendriks was unavailable and the offense was looking quiet.
The rookie showed maturity well beyond his years, battling through two innings to keep the Mariners off the board and earn the save. At a time when the rest of Oakland’s bullpen was looking questionable at best, Luzardo proved his worth.
Days later, the lefty looked just as impressive, this time on the national stage. He threw another three scoreless innings in the A’s Wild Card loss, showing off his electric fastball and above average command.
In a perfect world, Luzardo never ends up in the bullpen at all. He stays healthy, breaks camp with the big league team and spends the whole year in the rotation, right in the race for AL Rookie of the Year. But this is the hand he, and the A’s, were dealt, and both parties made the most of it.
8. One Grand Swing
Oakland’s 2019 schedule was strange. The team finished all of their games against their likely Wild Card competition — the Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and Tampa Bay Rays — before the All-Star Break. This meant that, unfortunately, some of these games didn’t carry the weight that they might have later in the season.
But each win counts the same in the standings, and each of the A’s wins over these teams was very important. That’s why a moment that might have otherwise gone forgotten makes this list.
In mid-June, the A’s were still hovering around .500, 7.5 games behind the Rays for the first Wild Card spot. They were running out of time to make a legitimate playoff push, making their series in Tampa Bay even more important.
After splitting the first two games of the series, the A’s jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the rubber match. But manager Bob Melvin left starter Brett Anderson just a bit too long, and the two teams entered the eighth inning tied at two.
A single, a walk, and a wild pitch put runners on second and third with only one out. With the go-ahead run 90 feet away, the Rays opted to intentionally walk Robbie Grossman and have rookie lefty Colin Poche face outfielder Ramón Laureano instead.
On a 2-2 count, Laureano cleared the bases with a rocket to left-center field. Lou Trivino and Blake Treinen slammed the door in the final two innings, giving the A’s a series victory.
But what makes this play so important is how it impacted the standings. The A’s finished the 2019 season just a game ahead of Tampa Bay. In retrospect, if they had lost this game, not only would this have dropped them into a tie for the top Wild Card spot; it would have also given the Rays the season series, and therefore the home field tiebreaker.
Oakland didn’t capitalize on its home field advantage, losing the Wild Card Game at home. But this one game, and Ramón’s clutch swing, could have ended up meaning so much more.
7. Ramón Shows the Red Sox Who’s Boss
I wouldn’t blame the Red Sox for dreading their April 13-15 series in Oakland next season.
In 2018, they came to town in late April with an MLB-best 16-2 record. But the A’s won two out of three, including Sean Manaea’s masterful no-hitter, sending Boston into one of their only cold streaks of the season.
In April 2018, it was more of the same. This time, the Red Sox came into town at the start of the month as the reigning World Series champions. Oakland won the series again, this time taking three out of four behind a handful of highlight reel plays from Laureano.
In the first game of the series, Boston was threatening early, as shortstop Xander Bogaerts stood at second base with one out in the second inning. First baseman Mitch Moreland hit a sharp single up the middle, which Laureano fielded cleanly before firing a 96 MPH dart to home plate to nab Bogaerts trying to score. An inning later, Laureano added an exclamation point by launching a home run to straightaway center field, his first of the year. The A’s breezed to a 7-0 victory.
In the second game, Laureano did it again. Oakland was clinging to a one-run lead in the ninth inning when Bogaerts crushed a deep fly ball off the very top of the right-center field fence. After an ill-advised attempt at fielding the ball, Laureano chased down the carom and threw Bogaerts — the tying run — out at third with an absolute missile. Two batters later, Treinen shut the door to close out another A’s win.
The next game, Laureano went deep again in an Oakland loss, and he was right back in the spotlight for the final game of the series. The A’s led 7-3 heading into the ninth, but with the speedy Mookie Betts on first base, outfielder Andrew Benintendi hit a bloop single to center field. Laureano fielded the ball on one bounce and made a strong throw on the run to catch Betts trying for third. Two batters later, the game was over and the Oakland Laureanos had secured a series victory over the mighty Red Sox.
Laureano had his defensive issues in 2019, and eventually found himself shifted to right field in favor of Mark Canha. But during this series, he showed how electric of a player he can truly be when everything clicks.
6. The A’s Take Over Houston
The Astros won the season series over the A’s, 11 games to 8. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
For most of the season, Houston owned the A’s. They won 9 of the first 11 match-ups between the two clubs, including two sweeps. But in the late summer, Oakland turned it on. They won three out of four at home against the reigning AL West champs in August, and headed into a tough four game set in Houston with their playoff chances on the line. After losing the first game 15-0, it looked like the A’s were in for another thrashing.
But they fought back. Hard. Oakland scored a season-high 21 runs the next day, including two-homer games from both Matt Olson and Sean Murphy, who each drove in four. The next two games were much closer. Another Murphy homer and the aforementioned Luzardo debut led the A’s to a 5-3 victory in the third game of the set, setting the stage for a showdown with longtime nemesis Justin Verlander in the series finale.
Oakland jumped on top early and hung on tight. Rookie Seth Brown, playing in just his 14th career game, drove in a run with a bloop double in the first inning. In the third, Olson added two more with his 32nd home run of the year, and strong outings from trade acquisitions Homer Bailey and Jake Diekman left the A’s on top 3-1 heading into the eighth.
That’s when the wheels threatened to come off. The always-reliable Yusmeiro Petit had an uncharacteristically poor outing, allowing a solo home run to José Altuve and a walk to Alex Bregman before being pulled. Rookie A.J. Puk didn’t fare much better, allowing a single to eventual Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez. That forced Melvin to reach even further into his inconsistent bullpen and turn to one of the A’s most frustrating relievers — righty Blake Treinen.
After a historically dominant 2018 season, Treinen simply forgot how to pitch. He couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, and immediately proved it, walking Aledmys Diaz on seven pitches — none of which were in the strike zone. That loaded the bases for top prospect Kyle Tucker with two outs and the A’s clinging to a one run lead. But Treinen got the job done, striking out Tucker and ending the threat ... at least, temporarily.
Hendriks entered for the ninth and immediately ran into trouble, allowing the first two batters to reach with the top of the Astros’ deadly lineup due next. He struck out George Springer on a 98 MPH fastball and got Altuve to fly out to right field, leaving runners on the corners with two away for Houston’s best contact hitter, Michael Brantley.
99 MPH paint. Game over.
This series ended the A’s season set with the Astros on the highest possible note. After a rough start to the year, the team proved that it could fight with the big dogs, even on the road. The A’s went into Houston and took care of business. Let’s hope that carries over into 2020.
Let this moment also serve as a chance to appreciate Liam Hendriks. His 2019 season alone deserves thousands of words, and with Oakland’s season-long bullpen woes, it’s hard to see them even making the postseason without the Aussie. He’s one of the best stories in baseball, and truly deserves all the credit in the world.
5. Laser Laureano’s Absurd Double Play
He’s only been in the big leagues for a year and a half, but it’s already clear that Laureano is a human highlight reel. He’s one of the most exciting players in the game on both sides of the ball, and he won’t let you forget it.
On April 21, only weeks after dominating the Red Sox, Laureano started one of the most insane double plays you will ever see. Words can’t describe it. Just watch.
First, Laureano drifted back and casually leapt over the wall to bring back a Teoscar Hernandez home run. Then, he coiled up and released a throw — from the edge of the warning track, mind you — that finally landed only a few feet in front of the camera well on the first base line. Luckily, catcher Nick Hundley was backing up the throw, and alertly threw a dime of his own to second base to catch Justin Smoak trying to tag up and advance. Jurickson Profar put down the tag and, within about 15 seconds, the A’s had turned a no-doubt two-run homer into two quick outs.
Laureano is no stranger to this kind of play, as it was actually quite similar to his ridiculous catch-and-throw double play in Anaheim back in 2018. But I had never seen anything like this happen on a baseball field before, and I’ll likely never see anything like it again. This one will stick with me for a long time, just like the Anaheim play, Josh Donaldson’s 2013 tarp catch and Matt Chapman’s wizardry against Yangervis Solarte in 2018.
4. Matt Chapman Stings the Rays
Just like Laureano’s grand slam the week before, this moment came with significant stakes simply because it came against the Rays. But this one had even more meaning to it than that.
This game was a roller coaster. At first, it looked like a classic pitchers’ duel between two aces, Charlie Morton and Frankie Montas. But with the game tied at one run apiece and Montas nearing 100 pitches, the A’s turned to Treinen.
That’s when the wheels fell off. He allowed three runs without recording a single out, and it looked like Oakland was going to turn a winnable game into another crushing late loss.
After Ryan Buchter and Lou Trivino did everything they could to clean up Treinen’s mess, Tampa Bay sent hard-throwing righty Diego Castillo to the mound with a three run lead. The game should have been over, and despite a pair of walks, Castillo and the Rays soon found themselves only an out away from victory.
Breakout star Marcus Semien stepped up to the plate, and quickly sent a hanging slider up the middle for a base hit. Grossman came around to score, and rare error by stud center fielder Kevin Kiermaier moved the tying run into scoring position. With Matt Chapman headed to the plate as the game-winning run, Oakland was clinging desperately to that bit of hope. A bloop, a bleeder, anything that hit the outfield grass and the game would be tied.
Chappy called game.
The star third baseman snagged victory from the hands of defeat. Castillo made a solid pitch — a slider down in the zone — but Chapman put an even better swing on it, sending it deep into the left field bleachers for a walk-off bomb.
The next day, the A’s lost Montas to an 80-game suspension. The day after, Treinen was placed on the injured list with a shoulder strain. Their ace and their former All-Star closer, both out of commission. It was a bleak time, and both the team and the fanbase could have easily given up.
But that one swing made a huge difference. It kept hope alive. If they could pull off that magical of a comeback from that large of a deficit, then it felt like they could overcome any adversity they faced.
And what do you know? They did.
3. Let’s Get Wild
It wasn’t an on-field highlight, but the last hour or so leading up to the beginning of the AL Wild Card Game was one of my favorite moments from the 2019 season.
The anticipation had been building up for days, weeks. I could hardly sleep the night before. At 4 p.m., I sat down on my couch decked out from head to toe — jersey, hat, socks, you name it.
I sat and watched the pregame show, feeling my heart skip a beat every time the camera panned to a shot of the Coliseum slowly filling to max capacity. Even Mount Davis was getting crowded! As first pitch neared, I could hear chants of “Let’s go Oakland” starting to echo through the stadium.
While I couldn’t be there myself this time, anyone that’s been to a playoff game in Oakland will tell you that there’s nothing like it. A’s fans show up, and they get loud. The excitement only built as I watched more than 50,000 in attendance cheer as their team took the field, the team that they had watched and supported for 162 games over six months.
The game didn’t go as planned. It left many — myself included — frustrated that the team couldn’t seem to get past that first round hump, especially after falling short in the Wild Card Game in three consecutive postseason appearances.
But all that aside, playoff baseball in Oakland is truly something to behold. The Coliseum is a dump, but it’s our dump. The fans make it into something special. For the A’s own sake, I hope they resolve their stadium issues and move into their shiny new Howard Terminal ballpark as soon as possible. But I also know that when they do, I’m really going to miss the concrete behemoth we currently call home.
2. On Fiers Against Cincinnati
I need to be transparent here — this one might be higher on my list than on others’. I wasn’t able to watch a single pitch of Manaea’s 2018 no-hitter, and I’m still kicking myself for it to this day.
But on a chilly May evening, I stepped into the Coliseum for my first game of the 2019 season, with the A’s set to take on the visiting Cincinnati Reds. I had no clue that I was about to watch history unfold.
Veteran right-hander Mike Fiers entered the evening with a 6.81 ERA through his first eight starts of the year. A little over four hours later, he would walk off the mound with a 5.48 ERA ... and the second no-hitter of his career.
The game moved quickly at first, with Fiers setting down the first six Reds he faced in order. Oakland jumped on the board first, thanks to an RBI double from Profar, who would play hero again later on in the night. The Reds managed their first baserunner in the fourth on a rare error by Chapman, but no damage was done.
After five innings, fans started to notice the zero in the hit column for Cincinnati. But with Fiers already at 83 pitches, hopes weren’t getting too high. After a routine flyout, the next two batters would come to define the eventual no-hitter.
To many, Profar was seen as the goat of the A’s season — and not in a good way. He was Oakland’s largest offseason acquisition, but he ended up being a major disappointment, especially on defense. So it’s only fitting that he made a spectacular diving catch into no-man’s land to preserve the no-no. Because, you know. Baseball.
Then, this time with the lead on the line, Laureano added another one to the highlight reel. He reached up and brought Joey Votto’s sure-to-be home run back from over the wall, ending the sixth inning and officially turning the no-hitter watch on.
In the seventh inning, Fiers danced around two walks with the help of a double play. But the shaky inning brought his pitch count up to 109, and with the A’s clinging to just a one run lead, he wasn’t going to get a long leash. Profar did him another favor with a solo home run in the bottom of the inning, but Fiers was still going to need to be close to perfect for Melvin to let him finish the game.
Well, he was. A nine-pitch eighth allowed him to return to the mound for the ninth, and after retiring the first two batters of the inning, he buried a 2-2 curveball to strike out Eugenio Suarez and complete the no-hitter. His teammates mobbed him on the field, and after staying to watch the celebration, I headed home from the Coliseum feeling that the world had atoned for forcing me to miss Manaea’s no-no the year prior.
1. Chaptain America Saves the A’s Season
Somehow, what I consider to be the most important and memorable moment of the A’s 2019 season did not even make Gallegos’ list.
After a Sept. 22 victory over the Texas Rangers, Oakland’s magic number to make the playoffs fell to five with seven games remaining on the schedule — one more in Texas, two in Anaheim and four in Seattle. That looked like seven very winnable games against the division’s bottom-feeders. The Wild Card berth felt like it was all but clinched.
But then, it all started to go south. The A’s lost the series finale in Texas, and after an off day they dropped the opened in Anaheim, too. The Indians won their two games in that span while the Rays won two of three. Suddenly, the magic number was five with five to play. Oakland led Tampa Bay by only half a game. Things were starting to look dicey.
They weren’t looking much better in the team’s next game. Montas threw six solid innings in his return from his suspension, but Petit gave up the go-ahead run in the seventh and the offense had gone quiet. With Tampa winning again earlier in the day, home field advantage looked like it was in jeopardy.
But then, in the ninth inning, the A’s proved they had one more comeback left in them. Once again, it was Semien setting the table with a leadoff single, a Chapman putting the A’s on top with a clutch home run.
With one swing (and the most subtle bat flip you’ll ever see), Chapman brought life back into the A’s season. He helped turn what could have been a 2014-like collapse into a confident cruise to the finish line. He proved that, even in what he considered a down year, he is the team captain.
Statistically, this may not have been the biggest moment of the season. Even if they had lost this game, the A’s were still favored to at least make the Wild Card Game, if not still host it. But it certainly didn’t feel that way. At the time, it felt like the entire season was spiraling out of control, until Chapman stepped up and did something about it. And that’s why, to me, this was the top moment of the 2019 Oakland A’s season.