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2020 Oakland A’s: Year of the Grand Slam

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A grand rise to the top of the AL standings

SFChronicleVirusBaseball Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

The Oakland A’s have played one-third of their 60-game schedule in the 2020 season, and so far they’re first place in the entire American League. They’ve gotten there in historically grand fashion.

Three of the A’s 14 wins have come courtesy of clutch late-game grand slams. They’re already one of only 18 teams in MLB history to hit three slams in the 9th inning or later in a single season, and nobody had ever done it four times, per insider Sarah Langs.

Furthermore, two of those slams were walk-offs, both coming within the first 11 games of the summer. That set an all-time record as the fastest club to notch two such blasts, and nobody has ever hit three in a single campaign.

These were all ridiculously exciting plays, so let’s take a peek back at each one.

Matt Olson walk-off

The A’s got started right away on Opening Day, forcing extra innings against the Angels and making it through the top of the 10th with the tie intact. They loaded the bases in the bottom half, and lefty reliever Hoby Milner entered to face Matt Olson. The A’s slugger jumped on Milner’s very first pitch and launched it into the right field bleachers.

It was MLB’s first Opening Day walk-off grand slam since 1986, when Jim Presley of the Mariners did it. Olson’s came on a slider, scoring Marcus Semien, Ramon Laureano, and Khris Davis. In an odd coincidence, the lefty Olson has three walk-off homers in his career, and all three have come against southpaw pitchers.

Stephen Piscotty walk-off

Not two weeks later, they did it again, this time against the Rangers. A pitcher’s duel left the game tied 1-1 in the 9th, and the A’s managed to load the bases in the bottom half. Once again the opponent called on a new pitcher, Jesse Chavez, and once again the Oakland batter went after his first pitch. It was Stephen Piscotty, and his flyball carried all the way over the center field fence.

No other A’s team has ever hit two walk-off slams, and this 2020 crew did it in just 11 games. Piscotty’s blast came on a changeup, scoring Franklin Barreto (pinch-running for Olson), Matt Chapman, and Mark Canha. With only one out on the board it didn’t need to be a homer or even a hit, as just a sac fly would have been enough, but what’s the fun in that? This was also the fourth in an eventual nine-game winning streak for Oakland.

Stephen Piscotty completes comeback

Just over a week later, Piscotty and the A’s were right back at it. This time, instead of breaking a tie at the last moment, the slam completed the epic last-minute comeback and forced the tie for the first time, with the A’s eventually winning in extras on the road against the last-place Giants. There was no pitching change, as closer Trevor Gott stayed in to clean up his own mess, and Piscotty patiently waited all the way until the second pitch of the at-bat before lining it over the wall in left.

Piscotty became the 14th MLB player ever (and first A’s player) to hit two 9th-inning slams in a season. The last to do it was Brian Goodwin in 2018, and nobody has ever hit three. Since this one only tied the game instead of taking the lead, it also unearthed a new fact missed by the first two — it’s the A’s first game-tying slam in the 9th or extras since Gus Zernial in 1952.

Friday’s tater came on a curveball, and it scored Mark Canha, Robbie Grossman, and Khris Davis. Oakland’s comeback, from five runs down in the 9th inning, was the first time the A’s have come from that far down that late in a game since 1952 (different from the Zernial game), and it was the first time the Giants had lost such a game since 1929 — the longest streak in modern history. As noted in our game recap: Those matchups were so long ago that they were between the Philadelphia A’s vs. St. Louis Browns, and the New York Giants vs. Brooklyn Dodgers, none of whom even exist in those forms anymore.

***

Three slams, all in the 9th inning or later. Two of them walk-offs, the other a miracle game-saver, and two of them by the same hitter. One to right, one to center, one to left; one on a slider, one on a change, one on a curve. No single runner was involved in all three slams, but Canha and Davis each scored on two of them. And all of it happened within a 20-game span, during a short season when the special moments need to come quickly and frequently because there’s no time to waste with mundane dog days.

There is joy in Mudville right now. The A’s season is off to a grand start.