Following the rain delay, the A’s offense brought some thunder of its own. For four innings, anyways.
Today’s game got off to an ominous start as an intense and windy thunderstorm pushed back the start of the game by an hour or so. The wind had an immediate impact on the game, too, once things got underway, as Mark Canha, batting second, ripped a high and long fly ball to left field that, at first, looked to have home run distance. However, the wind knocked the ball down just enough for Hunter Pence to make a spectacular jumping catch at the wall, in a play that looked very similar to Josh Reddick’s spiderman catch from a few years back. The A’s didn’t make any more noise in the inning.
The A’s got to flash some impressive defense of their own in the bottom half of the first. After Shin Soo Choo led off the first with a single, the following batter Danny Santana lofted a shallow fly ball towards no man’s land in right field, but Stephen Piscotty was able to leave his feet and make a wonderful, possible run-saving catch.
Rangers’ starting pitcher Drew Smyly has been bad recently, with an ERA over 13.00 over his last four starts. After giving up some loud contact in the first, it took a slick sliding stop to keep Khrush off the bases to lead off the second, but then the flood gates opened. Piscotty hit a screaming line drive off of Smyly’s left leg for a single, and Matt Olson smashed a home run into the second deck in right field just one pitch later.
Chad Pinder and Ramon Laureano each singled to put A’s back on the corners and place pressure on Smyly once more. Then Josh Phegley lofted a fly ball high and deep to left field, and like Canha’s blast in the first inning, the wind knocked it down and Pence made an impressive catch at the wall. At the very least, it went for a bombastic sacrifice fly to extend the A’s lead to 3-0.
One inning later, Khris Davis got off his homerless schneid with a long and low blast to left center field, hit hard enough that the wind couldn’t snatch it away. Smyly’s day was done after three innings and just over fifty pitches, removed due to ineffectiveness but perhaps also due to discomfort after taking Piscotty’s line drive to his leg. He was replaced by Shelby Miller in the fourth inning, one of the few pitchers on the Rangers who has been performing worse than Smyly, and has been removed from the rotation.
Miller’s day began with a single and a walk, placing runners on first and second for Marcus Semien, who had a monster series this weekend. With the wind suddenly having shifted from blowing across the stadium to right field to blowing across the stadium to left field, a fly ball off of Semien’s bat kept drifting further and further away from a pursuing Pence and landed at the foot of the wall. Both runs would score, and when the dust settled Semien was standing at third. Semien follows only Mike Trout in American League WAR. After an eight pitch at bat, Canha drove in Semien with a sacrifice fly, expanding the A’s lead to 8-0.
Meanwhile, Frankie Montas was acing along like the ace that he is. His fastball was routinely in the upper 90s and even hit 99 several times. His splitter was inducing weak ground balls that the infield defense could easily coral. While he did have his fair share of ducks on the pond in the first three innings, a smart approach on the mound paired with his nasty stuff meant that the Rangers couldn’t really threaten to score.
Things came undone for Montas, just a bit, in the fourth inning, but the culprit for his struggles came from an unlikely source, the A’s defense. The first batter of the inning reached base after Semien allowed a ball to go under his glove while playing in the shift. Pence, who’s playing like he’s ten years younger this season, hit a single to right field to place runners on first and second with no outs. Montas used his strong splitter to induce a tailor-made double play ball, but the ball clanked off of Olson’s glove and he had to settle for just the out at first base, the runners moving up to second and third. Though he should have been out of the inning, Montas then allowed a single to center field that was bungled by Laureano, who was clearly thinking of throwing before actually fielding the ball, and the single bounced off his glove and rolled behind him. Both runners scored.
**As a side note, despite his long list of highlights, according to the “Outs Above Average” leaderboard, Laureano is the fourth worst defensive outfielder in all of the major leagues of those who qualify. He will no doubt improve and his natural talents are obvious, but he hasn’t been nearly as good as he looks out there. With Canha cromulent in center, Grossman less than cromulent in left field and with the bat, and with Laureano having spent most of his minor league career in a corner outfield spot, it shouldn’t be unthinkable for the A’s to un-pencil in Laureano as the everyday center fielder. His speed and range could allow for Canha to shade more towards right field, in the same way Chapman’s presence allows Semien to shift more towards second base. Or not.**
The only real negative to come out of the sloppy fourth inning was that it bloated Montas’ pitch count, and cost him an extra inning he could have pitched, meaning the oh-so-adventurous bullpen was to be more exposed. But, it was business as usual for Montas after the fourth mercilessly ended. He struck out the side in the fifth (funnily enough, the A’s also struck out in order in the top half of the inning), and a strikeout of Pence in the sixth made it four in a row for him. He was using all of his pitches very effectively, though he did have a couple of dud splitters mixed in. One of those dud splitters found its way over the right field fence when Asdrubal Cabrera got a hold of one, cutting the A’s lead to 8-3. It was the first home run he gave up in his last fifty nine innings. Following the home run, Montas went back to striking dudes out, getting Rougned Odor and Tim Federowicz swinging.
All told, Montas pitched six innings and got ten strikeouts, nine of them swinging, and the final six outs he recorded were all swinging K’s. He only walked one batter, and it was a harmless one. While he gave up three runs total, only one of them was in any way his fault. This was the best Montas has looked all season long, and definitely looks like the type of pitcher one would want on the mound in a winner-take-all sudden death Wild Card game.
Starting in the fifth inning, the Rangers stopped throwing their chaff pitchers and started placing good players on the bump. Peter Fairbanks, a two time Tommy John survivor who didn’t play hardly at all in 2017 and 2018, shot up from A ball to the majors in 2019 as he transitioned into a bullpen role. With a fastball in the upper 90s, a sharp slider, and a deceptive delivery, in his first big league inning he simply struck out the side. In his second inning, he navigated around an error and induced a double play. Fairbanks was replaced by Brett Martin, another former starting pitcher turned reliever, who is in his first big league season after allowing just one run in twelve innings at AAA this year. Martin, while less impressive than Fairbanks was, didn’t allow a baserunner in two innings pitched.
For as great as the offense looked in the first four innings, the Rangers were slowly chipping away at the lead as the A’s were stuck on eight runs. Much like the storm that delayed the game, the thunder that the A’s had brought had faded away, and light was now shining on Texas.
Yusmeiro Petit pitched a scoreless seventh but also allowed lots of hard contact and needed some good defense behind him to get through the inning. Lou Trivino was given the eighth, against the bottom part of the Rangers’ lineup, but his location was all over the place and, following an infield single, gave up a screaming line drive to the right field corner off the bat of Cabrera for a run scoring double, and then a screaming line drive to the left field corner off the bat of Odor for another run scoring double. Another infield single placed runners on first and third. A generous called third strike saved his outing from being even worse, and may have changed the outcome of the game entirely.
Buchter was brought in to replace Trivino, and he immediately gave up a straight steal of home plate. It is the second steal of home the A’s have allowed against the Rangers this year. Buchter mercifully got Choo to ground out to end the inning, but what was an 8-0 was now 8-6.
Tensions were running high in the ninth inning, but fortunately the A’s were gifted a run. After Phegley led the frame off with a single, with one out he was advanced to second on a passed ball from Jeff Mathis, a ball that definitely should have been caught, or at least kept in front of him. With two outs in the inning, Matt Chapman looked completely outmatched by Leclerc, as he whiffed on a fastball right down the heart of the plate and then chased a high pitch and was inches from fouling out, but then was pegged in the ribs on an out of control fastball, allowing Khris Davis to bat in an inning that should have already been over. Davis, the legendary Rangers’ killer, then gave a mighty swing and dribbled a ball up the first base line, just barely foul. The next pitch he saw he deposited into left field for an RBI single. The A’s lead expanded to 9-6.
Blake Treinen entered the game in the bottom of the ninth, looking for his fourteenth save of the season. After a quick out, he gave up back to back singles and the Rangers had runners on first and third, the tying run up at the plate, and the heart of the order due up. Treinen survived an offspeed pitch that crossed right through the heart of the zone with Pence up, and managed to strike him out for the second out of the inning. Then he fell behind Cabrera 2-1 and gave up a laser single to right field that scored one run and allowed the runner on first to advance to third, placing the tying run on first base. Cabrera was replaced by the speedy Delino DeShields at first. A Phegley passed ball scored the runner on third and moved DeShields up to second for free. It was now 9-8, the Rangers’ comeback one hundred eighty feet away.
Treinen walked Odor, who is one of the hardest guys to walk in all of baseball, on four pitches to place the winning run on base with the speedy tying run in scoring position. Ronald Guzman strode up to the plate, worked the count to 1-1, and then Treinen threw a fastball right down the middle. Guzman ripped the ball on a line to center field.
Fortunately, for as hard as it was hit, Laureano didn’t need to move as the ball landed safely in his mitt.
“It was a three hour and twenty five minute torture fest…. I am so tired.” - Glen Kuiper
A’s successfully managed to not blow an eight run lead. Playoffs, here we come.