Chad Pinder already delivered a series-winning hit earlier this month. On Wednesday, he saved another October series with perhaps the Oakland A’s clutchest hit of the year.
Facing elimination from the 2020 postseason with just three innings to go, Pinder blasted a three-run homer to tie Game 3 of the ALDS. The A’s rallied for two more in the 8th to take the lead, with Pinder again driving in one of them, and Liam Hendriks pitched a nine-out save to seal the 9-7 victory and force a Game 4 on Thursday against the Houston Astros.
Oakland trailed 7-4 in the 7th inning, and the Astros could surely smell a sweep. But Marcus Semien and Tommy La Stella singled to lead off the frame, and then Pinder sent a towering fly to the opposite field, just a few rows into the stands in right. The A’s kept it rolling in the 8th, putting runners on second and third with nobody out and ultimately scoring them both on sac flies.
Pinder’s home run was Oakland’s fifth long ball of the day, but the first to come with any runners on base. It also broke two troubling trends from the first two games of the series — it was the A’s first (and still only) hit with runners in scoring position, and it marked the first time they scored after the 5th inning. Those are, of course, two key differences between a loss and a late comeback.
Oakland also got solo homers from La Stella in the 1st inning, Mark Canha in the 2nd, Matt Olson in the 4th, and Marcus Semien in the 5th. However, a five-run rally by the Astros in the bottom of the 5th threatened to be the final push that ended the A’s season, until Pinder offered other plans.
This game began exactly as the last two did. The Oakland A’s homered to take an early lead and then the Astros answered back, and after a barrage of dingers by both clubs, Houston was in front by the time the late innings rolled around.
It only took until the second batter of the game for the ball to begin flying again at Dodger Stadium. Tommy La Stella got the party started with his first of the playoffs.
La Stella starting this game strong pic.twitter.com/5n9x8E5XQt— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) October 7, 2020
In the bottom of the frame, Jose Altuve answered back with a solo shot of his own. That meant that both second basemen went deep from the second spots in their respective lineups. Houston later added a second run, when the A’s couldn’t quite turn an inning-ending double play with runners at the corners.
In the 2nd, Mark Canha tied it back up. This was his first hit of any kind in the series, and it was only his second hit in the postseason so far. He’s now 3-for-21, though he’s walked a few times and delivered some big defensive plays.
2nd inning... 2nd A’s homer pic.twitter.com/qhOk5ZHWH3— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) October 7, 2020
In the 4th, Oakland jumped back into the lead thanks to Matt Olson. The first baseman is now 2-for-19 in the postseason, but both hits are homers and he’s also walked five times. Somehow this only went 427 feet.
Crushed would be an understatement pic.twitter.com/JatnU3xotA— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) October 7, 2020
The A’s pushed their lead further in the 5th, when Marcus Semien added another solo homer. He’s batting .391/.462/.696 in the playoffs, and this was his second homer (first of the series).
It was an impressive display of power, but the problem was that all of the dingers came with nobody on base, limiting the damage. What’s more, after Semien’s long ball the A’s had a chance to blow the game open but squandered it, and it nearly cost them their season.
Immediately after the homer, Oakland put two runners on with one out. Then they loaded the bases with two outs. But each time, with Houston on the ropes, they weren’t able to find the one or two more hits they needed for the knockout punch.
The lead stayed at two runs, and Houston erased that in no time — literally within two batters. The bottom of the 5th began with a leadoff walk, and then Aledmys Diaz, in his first start of the series, went deep to tie it up.
That blow was enough to end the day for A’s starter Jesús Luzardo one out later. Both he and his Houston counterpart, Jose Urquidy, pitched into the 5th inning, but they combined to allow six homers on the day (four by Urquidy). That said, Luzardo only had five hard-hit balls against him (out of 14), including the two homers.
Luzardo: 4⅓ ip, 4 runs, 2 Ks, 2 BB, 2 HR, 5 hits, 73 pitches (44 strikes)
Oakland’s bullpen initially didn’t fare any better. Yusmeiro Petit came in for the third day in a row, and this time he couldn’t contain the Astros sizzling lineup. He hit George Springer with his very first pitch, then allowed a pair of singles and a double to plate two runs and give Houston the lead. Jake Diekman relieved him and watched a hard grounder slip through the infield for another RBI single. Welp.
At the time, that hit off Diekman felt like the dagger. It made the score 7-4, in a series in which the A’s hadn’t been able to muster anything in the late innings against Houston’s bullpen. The reality began to sink in that the Astros might not just win the series, but sweep it.
But Ramon Laureano was not about to let that happen. Not against his former team, the one they’d so notoriously feuded with during the summer. It wasn’t going to end like this.
Chad Pinder said Ramón Laureano gathered everybody before the seventh inning and fired everyone up, saying "This isn't it. This ain't over."— Martín Gallegos (@MartinJGallegos) October 7, 2020
This isn’t the first time Chad Pinder has served as a hero in these playoffs. In the Wild Card Series last week, he notched the go-ahead two-run hit in the deciding Game 3 against the Chicago White Sox to give the A’s their first postseason series win in over a decade. Then in ALDS Game 2 against the Astros on Tuesday, he hit the longest homer Dodger Stadium has seen all year, which at the time kept the game close at a crucial moment.
On Wednesday, the super-sub-turned-superstar topped himself with an even bigger highlight.
Oakland needed a rally, anything at all to chip away at the lead before any more time went by. They got just that when Semien and La Stella both singled to lead off the 7th inning. Two on, no out, middle of the order coming up. This was the chance, and they simply had to cash in if they wanted to keep their season going.
With a right-handed pitcher (Josh James) in the game, you would normally expect manager Bob Melvin to play the platoon matchup and sub in Jake Lamb as a pinch-hitter. But Melvin knew that Pinder is the hottest hand in the lineup, and the skipper stuck with him. It paid off.
Pinder said after the game that he was just trying to loft a sac fly to bring home the runner from third base, and off the bat it appeared he’d done just that. But the ball kept carrying, and the right fielder kept moving back, and back, and back, until he ran out of room and watched helplessly at it clattered around among the cardboard cutouts in the seats.
The game was tied. Holy. Toledo.
And then. In the 8th inning, Oakland once again led off with two baserunners, this time a walk by Robbie Grossman and a lucky bloop double by Laureano. All they needed to do was bring home a runner from third, with nobody out yet, and they’d have an honest-to-goodness lead.
It only took one pitch. Sean Murphy skied it to right, where the fielder had to contend with the late-afternoon sun just to catch it at all, and Grossman trotted home with the go-ahead run.
But there was still an insurance run standing on third, if they could only repeat that trick once more. Semien walked, and then La Stella was hit by a pitch — in the elbow, knocking him out of the game, though it sounds like he might be OK. The bases were loaded, and none other than Pinder was coming up again.
On the 2-2 pitch, Pinder hit another fly to right. No way. He didn’t do it again did he? It looked quite similar off the bat to his previous homer. However, this one didn’t quite have the distance, and he settled for what he’d been after in the first place — a sac fly to at least bring home one critical run.
When the dust settled, it was 9-7 A’s. But they still needed to record nine outs to put it away.
Hercu-Liam, bullpen demigod
The A’s tried to unleash Liam Hendriks for a six-out save in the Wild Card Series, but it didn’t quite work and he had to be bailed out by Diekman at the end. They went even bolder this time, and Hercu-Liam delivered the performance of his career.
With the game still tied entering the bottom of the 7th, Melvin didn’t mess around. He went straight to his closer for an old-school, three-inning fireman job. His season-high to that point was 49 pitches, which he did the previous week in that Wild Card Series outing.
Hendriks breezed through the 7th. It only took him 11 pitches to record two strikeouts and a flyout. and he looked completely dominant in the process.
But then in the 8th, with the lead now in hand, trouble brewed. The first batter singled, and the next reached on a catcher’s interference of all things. It went to replay review, but c’mon, we all know how that ended. The only surprise was that they didn’t somehow rule it was actually a homer.
There were two runners on and nobody out, nursing a late two-run lead while facing playoff elimination. That’s about as high-leverage as a situation gets. Hendriks induced a popup for the first out. Then a grounder dribbled in front of the plate, effectively working like a sac bunt even if that wasn’t the intention. Two outs, and the runners moved up. And then a pinch-hitter strode to the plate, in the form of former A’s star Josh Reddick. With so many demons already beaten in this postseason, it was time to face the Curse of the Former A’s once and for all.
Ball 1 missed by plenty. Ball 2 did the same. But then Reddick swung through an elevated fastball above the plate. And then another. And then fouled off another. Hendriks tried to go farther up the ladder but Reddick didn’t bite. Full count. And then Hendriks challenged him with pure gas, 98.2 mph right in the zone.
Liam is PUMPED!...... Reddick not so much pic.twitter.com/erBGQ2Loge— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) October 7, 2020
The game wasn’t over, but sometimes the biggest moment isn’t the final out. This was Houston’s best opportunity, and they came up empty. Swing and a miss.
Indeed, the 9th inning was smooth sailing. A strikeout by Springer. A popout by Altuve. A flyout by Michael Brantley. And just like that, after only 37 pitches by Hendriks, the A’s had somehow, spectacularly, unbelievably, inconceivably, won.
It’s only the second time in franchise history that the A’s have trailed a postseason game by at least three runs after six innings and then come back to win. You have to go back to Game 4 of the 1929 World Series for the last instance, per info manager Mike Selleck.
And for Hendriks’ part, he’s only the third A’s pitcher ever to earn a win in the box score by finishing a game with three or more scoreless innings, after Rube Walberg in 1929 Game 5 and Rollie Fingers in 1972 World Series Game 1, per Selleck.
They also set some dinger records along the way.
Among the franchise books, their 10 homers in this ALDS are already the most they’ve ever hit in a single series, and it’s only been three games. Their previous high was nine, in the four games of the 1989 World Series, per scorer David Feldman.
Their five homers in this single game tied the mark held by Game 3 of that ‘89 World Series, per Selleck.
And perhaps most amazingly, this was the first time in MLB history that all four infielders on a team homered in the same postseason game, per analyst Ryan Spaeder. Olson (1B), La Stella (2B), Semien (SS), and Pinder (3B) all went deep to complete the diamond circuit.
Live to play another day
The sun has set on Wednesday, and the Oakland A’s season is still alive. They will play another game on Thursday, and once again they must win in order to keep going. They’ll turn to Frankie Montas to start Game 4, at 12:35 p.m. on TBS.