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Chad Pinder finally had his moment with game-winning hit in Game 3

Putting the “super” in super-sub

American League Wild Card Game 3: Chicago White Sox v. Oakland Athletics Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Chad Pinder has been around since the beginning.

The Oakland A’s drafted him as a shortstop in 2013 — one year after Matt Olson, one year before Matt Chapman, and one round before Ryon Healy. He started his pro career among a group of highly touted fellow infielders that included Olson, Addison Russell, Daniel Robertson, and Renato Nunez, plus Healy, catcher Bruce Maxwell, and outfielder Jaycob Brugman.

That core did nothing but win throughout the minors. In 2015 they captured the Double-A Texas League championship, and Pinder led the way by winning league MVP honors. Some of them were traded away over the years, but most at least debuted in the majors in an A’s uniform. Today, Olson and Pinder are all that remain, plus Chapman who caught up with them in Triple-A.

Pinder first reached the bigs in 2016, but by the time he stuck for good in 2017 he was blocked at every infield position by Chapman at third, Marcus Semien at short, and Jed Lowrie at second. So instead he learned the outfield on the fly, and immediately turned himself into a plus on defense there — even better than he’d ever been in the infield.

Still, playing time was hard to come by. His bat was explosive but didn’t turn out as consistent as those of Chapman and Olson, so he settled into more of a versatile, platoon, super-sub role. That was enough to be part of the team, providing double-digit homers and useful defense and by all accounts great clubhouse leadership, but he’s never collected more than 370 plate appearances in a season.

It got even worse for him in 2020. In a 60-game campaign, he only made it into 24 of them, for 61 total plate appearances — that works out to around half as often as he used to play from 2017-19. And then, right as his biggest opportunity finally came up, he got hurt.

On Sept. 6, Chapman exited with a torn labrum in his hip, and with three weeks left he would ultimately be done for the season. Pinder was the primary right-handed backup, and at worst would have split everyday duties the rest of the way. Instead, two days later, he pulled a hamstring and joined Chapman on the injured list. Oakland made an emergency signing of free agent third baseman Jake Lamb, who of course took off immediately as the team’s hottest hitter just to make sure the door stayed closed at the position.

Fortunately, Pinder wasn’t hurt too badly, and he was able to return just before the end of the season. He made it into the final game of the year and even notched an RBI single to show he was ready for the playoffs — and to provide a bit of foreshadowing.

Pinder played in all three games in the Wild Card Series, his first career postseason experience after watching the one-and-done Wild Card Game from the dugout the last two years. He started as the DH in Game 1, and then at third base in Game 2 against a lefty starter. However, he went a quiet 1-for-6 overall.

He began Game 3 on the bench against a righty starter, but he only had to wait until the 3rd inning for his turn. Manager Bob Melvin made an aggressive move during an early rally, subbing in Pinder for Lamb against a lefty reliever in order to gain the platoon advantage in an RBI situation. It didn’t work, as Pinder hit it hard but on the ground for what could have been a double play grounder, but instead turned out as an infield single that didn’t drive home a run. Oakland didn’t score in the inning.

Pinder got another chance later, though, and boy did he ever come through. With the game tied 4-4 in the 5th inning, and the bases loaded with two out, his spot came up against right-handed reliever Evan Marshall. Lamb would have had the platoon advantage here, but instead it belonged to Marshall over Pinder. Still, if there’s one thing Pinder does at the plate it’s hit the ball hard, as his 92.3 mph exit velocity this year trailed only Chapman — and even against righties, his 90.0 mark tied for fourth on the club and exceeded Lamb’s by a full tick.

So what did Pinder do? He hit it hard. On the ground again, but his 101.3 mph blast found a hole this time, between SS and 3B, and two runs came home.

Nobody else scored the rest of the game, making those tiebreaking runs the eventual game-winners. The A’s first postseason series victory in 14 years came on a single by Chad Pinder against a righty pitcher. Who had that square in the community pool?

And just like that, he finally had his moment in the sun. Chapman and Olson have reels of highlights, and the awards to show for them, but Pinder is often the forgotten man operating on the periphery or setting up someone else’s heroics. He had a game-winning grand slam in Toronto in 2018, but when you picture a standard A’s lineup he’s usually on the bench. Now he’s got something that even the Matts don’t have — a postseason game-winner. Nay, a postseason series-winner.

None of this means that Pinder is suddenly the best player on the team. But when you’re thinking about the core names of this era of A’s baseball, I’ll bet you’ll never again let him slip your mind.