The Oakland A’s (34-34) got a huge lift tonight, defeating the formidable Tampa Bay Rays (41-25) by a score of 4-3, thanks to outstanding pitching and back-to-back home runs from Matt Olson and Khris Davis. The victory ties the three game series at a game apiece heading into tomorrow’s tiebreaker and final game of a grueling road trip that has spanned the southern U.S., all the way from Anaheim to St. Petersburg.
The Rays opened up an early lead in the first inning. A’s shortstop Marcus Semien created an early opportunity for the A’s with a leadoff double to start the game, but his teammates failed to capitalize, going down in order as Rays opener Ryne Stanek did his duty and delivered a scoreless opening frame. In the bottom of the first, Rays left fielder Tommy Pham put Tampa Bay on the board with an authoritative solo home run off of A’s starter Mike Fiers.
Two scoreless innings followed, as Fiers pitched out of some trouble in the second and followed up with a 1-2-3 top of the third. The Rays sent Jalen Beeks out to follow Stanek in the second, and he retired all six batters faced through the third inning. Matt Olson managed to work a leadoff walk against Beeks in the fourth, but the A’s offense once again failed to convert as Khris Davis grounded into a double play and Stephen Piscotty struck out to end the inning with the A’s still down 1-0.
The Rays picked up another run in the bottom of the fourth. With two outs, Josh Phegley made an ill-advised attempt to throw out Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier on an attempt to steal second with shortstop Willy Adames at third. Phegley’s throw to Profar was high, and Adames easily scored. The A’s, already looking listless at the plate and somewhat outmatched by a red hot Tampa Bay Rays squadron, fell further behind on a costly mistake.
However, the A’s offense awoke and turned the tables in the fifth and sixth innings. The A’s finally got on the board against Beeks in the fifth on an RBI single from Chad Pinder that scored Jurickson Profar. Former A’s reliever Emilio Pagán, who disappointed in Oakland last year but entered tonight’s game positively transformed with an ERA of 0.82 on the season, took the mound for the Rays in the sixth. Matt Chapman reached first on a throwing error by Adames, and then Matt Olson gave Oakland the lead with a signature majestic blast to right field, his tenth home run of the season.
Khris Davis followed suit, ending a string of terrible plate appearances to khrush one to right center and put the A’s up 4-2.
Mike Fiers logged another quality start this evening, allowing two runs on just three hits in six innings, fanning four, and walking two. Liam Hendricks followed in relief and continued to flash dominance, striking out the side in the bottom of the seventh. Lou Trivino returned to the setup role—and the sheer dominance that typified his performances last season—striking out two and retiring the Rays, 1-2-3, in the eighth. A’s pitchers had utterly silenced the Rays’ bats, having retired 13 in a row as the game went to the ninth inning.
Blake Treinen walked on to save the win for Fiers in bottom of the ninth. Treinen has struggled with control this season, and A’s fans were likely feeling uneasy as Blake issued a four pitch leadoff walk to Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe. Treinen struck out third baseman Yandy Diaz and got first baseman Ji-Man Choi to softly ground out to Olson at first, but then Adames scored Lowe with his second hit of the game, narrowing the lead to but one run. No further drama would ensue, however: Kiermaier ended the game with a groundout, again to Olson, who secured the one-run win for Oakland at first base.
- True southern grit: Not grits, grit. Despite the red eye flights and compressed schedule the A’s have been forced to endure on this road trip through Anaheim, Arlington, and St. Petersburg, the A’s are 5-4 on the excursion so far and have an opportunity to cap it off with a series win against one of the hottest teams in baseball.
- Fiers en fuego: Mike Fiers has most convincingly turned his season around after a decidedly nightmarish spring. He posted an abysmal ERA of 8.28 through April 20, but since then is 4-1 with an ERA of 3.20 and has allowed no more than three runs in each of his nine starts.
- Meanwhile, back in Stockton the A’s #1 and #2 prospects began their rehab assignments tonight with the Ports. A.J. Puk (#2) allowed a home run but no other hits in two innings, struck out four, walked one, and threw 33 pitches, 22 of them for strikes. Jesus Luzardo (#1) followed and pitched three scoreless innings with 2 strikeouts. Hopefully they’ll both hit the jackpot in Vegas soon en route to their long-awaited big league debuts.