All the Oakland A’s needed to snap their three-game losing streak on Saturday was a clutch hit with a runner in scoring position, and they finally got it.
With the automatic runner on second base in the 10th inning, Robbie Grossman lined a pinch-hit double to the wall to drive in the go-ahead run in a 3-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners.
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After going 1-for-20 with runners in scoring position over their previous three games, leading to three frustrating losses, the A’s managed two such hits on Saturday. It took 10 tries to get them, but it proved to be enough in this low-scoring affair.
The first big knock didn’t come until the 7th inning. Mark Canha’s one-out double gave Oakland an opportunity, and Chad Pinder cashed in by launching a two-run homer to right-center. That tied the game at the time, and the A’s bullpen was able to hold on long enough for the lineup to come through again.
The green and gold received contributions from all areas in this game. In addition to clutch hits and the scoreless relief work, they also got a quality start from Mike Fiers. The right-hander worked six full innings, the longest outing by any A’s pitcher this year, allowing just two runs while throwing an efficient 79 pitches.
One final bright spot was Khris Davis finally getting his first hit of the season. It was just a single that didn’t factor into any scoring, and later he couldn’t deliver in an RBI situation, but it was still nice to see him break the 0-for-15 he carried entering the game. Mr. 247 is batting .053, but it’s better than all zeroes.
Bats still groggy but slowly waking
The A’s didn’t have a huge offensive showing, collecting just three runs on six hits and four walks in 10 frames, while striking out 15 times. But the ways they got those runs were encouraging.
First up was Pinder’s dinger. The A’s hadn’t hit a homer with a runner on base since Matt Olson’s walk-off grand slam on Opening Day, more than a week ago. Since then they’d gotten three solo shots in five contests, but on Saturday Pinder came through with a man on base to post a crooked number with one swing of the bat.
Clutch Chad has entered the chat#RootedInOakland pic.twitter.com/MccUFOnPEL— Oakland A's (@Athletics) August 2, 2020
Out of four candidates for the A’s second base position, none has yet set themselves apart for regular playing time. Tony Kemp, Vimael Machin, and Franklin Barreto have combined to go 0-for-15 so far, and Pinder was only 1-for-9 entering the night. But Oakland finally got some production out of the keystone, and Pinder added a walk and a nice defensive play too, though he also made an error in the field.
The A’s had another chance in the 9th, with two runners on and two out for Davis, but his flyball came about 30 feet short of clearing the wall. The only other big rally they missed out on was in the 6th, with the two leadoff men (including Davis) singling but then the next three batters going down in order.
Oakland got a bonus spin in the 10th, when the Mariners couldn’t scratch out their own go-ahead run in regulation, and this time the A’s didn’t squander it. With their free runner on second, and one out, Robbie Grossman pinch-hit for the No. 9 batter Sean Murphy, and he found a gap for extra bases.
We've said for years that we're fans of the new extra innings rule#RootedInOakland pic.twitter.com/Ldpr5F101h— Oakland A's (@Athletics) August 2, 2020
This seemingly should have been even more fruitful. Grossman actually reached third base on his hit, but the ball got not-really-lodged under the lip of the wall and rookie CF Kyle Lewis threw his hands up as if it was a trapped dead ball. A moment later Lewis had no problem picking it up and throwing it in, but for some reason the umps concluded after a replay review that Grossman indeed needed to go back to second.
The next batter, Marcus Semien, lifted a deep fly ball that would have scored Grossman easily from third base. But he was on second, because apparently if you don’t want to field a fully visible live ball you can just raise your hands and call off the play? Perhaps there’s a specific ground rule about this at T-Mobile Park, but it seems to me that (intentionally or by a serendipitous rookie mistake) Lewis just deked the umps into taking away 90 feet — and, by extension, a key insurance run. Fortunately, it didn’t end up mattering.
Fiers heating up
The A’s starting rotation has been slow to get going this year, after the long pandemic layoff and then an abbreviated preseason training camp. They finally got their first quality start on Saturday, as Mike Fiers was the first to reach six full innings and he did so with only two runs on the board.
Fiers: 6 ip, 2 runs, 3 Ks, 1 BB, 0 HR, 4 hits, 79 pitches (48 strikes)
That’s the Fiers we knew and loved last summer, cranking out solid performances that consistently put his team in a position to win. That’s exactly what he did in this game.
Bullpen still smokin’
After a hot first few games this season, the A’s bullpen didn’t get much of a chance to shine last week in the the team’s ho-hum losses. The lower-leverage guys got some work, but nobody in the setup crew had appeared since Monday, except for four pitches by Yusmeiro Petit on Wednesday.
They got back in action on Saturday and didn’t miss a beat, though they did miss some bats. Jake Diekman came in for the 7th and looked great in a 1-2-3 inning. He leaned unusually heavily on his slider, but he had it working and he was hitting the zone as much as we ever see from him. The final pitch was a called Strike 3 on a perfectly placed breaking ball at the bottom edge of the zone.
Petit followed in the 8th, and he needed only eight pitches to breeze through his inning. He’s faced a dozen batters this year and let only one reach base.
Joakim Soria got the 9th, with the task of holding off Seattle and taking the game to extras. He nearly blew it, loading the bases with one out, but he bore down and struck out the next two batters to strand everyone and preserve the tie.
LARGE EXHALE#RootedInOakland pic.twitter.com/dYSg745aZp— Oakland A's (@Athletics) August 2, 2020
After the A’s scored in the top of the 10th, closer Liam Hendriks entered for the save. He had to contend with the auto-runner on second base, but he got some help from the Mariners in that regard. Leadoff batter Tim Lopes tried to bunt the tying run to third base, and with two strikes no less, but he popped it up straight to Hendriks for a free out. Dylan Moore then popped out, and J.P. Crawford went fishing on a nasty curveball in the dirt for a strikeout to end the game.
They had us in the first six innings, not gonna lie— Oakland A's (@Athletics) August 2, 2020
(But we got it done in 10)
FINAL: #Athletics 3, Mariners 2 #RootedInOakland pic.twitter.com/icxqo8yqQn
Hendriks is now 2-for-3 in save chances, and the rest of the pen has added another save and six holds with none blown. On Saturday, they were airtight. Included in their 66 pitches were 14 swinging strikes, mostly by Soria, and that 21.2% rate is extremely high.
A’s bullpen: 4 ip, 0 runs, 6 Ks, 2 BB, 1 hit
This felt like a game the A’s might have lost last year. They’d have gotten three or four strong relief appearances, but just one more would go wrong enough to break the chain. It almost happened in the 9th inning, but this time Soria pulled through and didn’t let the house of cards tumble.
Keep it rolling
The A’s will try to repeat their success on Sunday, with Chris Bassitt on the mound against former teammate Kendall Graveman. First pitch is 1:10 p.m.