In the first two games of the 2020 Bay Bridge Series, the Oakland A’s authored thrilling last-minute comeback wins against the San Francisco Giants. In the finale of this first installment at Oracle Park, the green and gold took care of business much earlier, leaving nothing to doubt by the 9th.
The A’s scored nine runs in the 5th inning, routing the last-place Giants 15-3 to complete a three-game sweep.
The A’s brought 13 batters to the plate during that massive rally, and Chad Pinder, Stephen Piscotty, and Marcus Semien chipped in homers along the way. For the game overall, Piscotty let the way with 5 RBI, while Semien, Pinder, and Mark Canha each knocked in two, and Matt Olson singled three times and scored three runs. Everyone in the starting lineup had at least one hit and either scored and/or drove in a run, and Pinder picked up three hits off the bench.
The pitching went well too. Mike Fiers registered a quality start for Oakland, working six innings with just two runs allowed. Top prospect James Kaprielian followed, making his MLB debut, and allowed a homer to his first batter but settled down to retire six of the next seven while dialing his fastball up to 97 mph. Daniel Mengden pitched a scoreless 9th.
First half: Tight thriller
The first half of this game was exciting, with both teams trading runs and keeping pace with each other.
In the 2nd, the A’s loaded the bases (including a pair of walks), and Khris Davis brought one home despite grounding into a double play. In the bottom half, Brandon Belt homered to tie it.
In the 3rd inning, Tony Kemp singled and then Matt Chapman drove him home, lining a double to right-center and reaching third when the Giants outfielders clanked it around. In the bottom half, Brandon Crawford led off with a double, and then pulled off a successful hit-and-run — Crawford began to steal, third baseman Chapman broke position to meet him at the bag, and Mike Yastrzemski blooped a soft flare right where Chapman had been standing. It fell for a hit, the run scored, and the game was tied again.
By the end of the 4th, the score was 2-2 and it looked like we might have another nailbiter on our hands. But then ...
All of that changed in the top of the 5th.
It began innocently enough, as these rallies tend to do. A walk and a lineout set the scene, and with one on and one out the Giants turned to the pen for Wandy Peralta, one of their many lefties. Chad Pinder was called to pinch-hit for Kemp, and then — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — he absolutely crushed the very first offering from the new reliever.
The A’s are tied for the MLB lead with nine first-pitch homers, so, maybe it’s time to stop feeding them meatballs to begin at-bats. At 112.1 mph exit velocity, this was the hardest-hit homer of Pinder’s career, and it traveled an impressive 422 feet. Also, it gave the A’s a 4-2 lead, which at the time seemed like a big deal. But really, it was just the beginning.
Two more singles followed, one by each Matt, with Olson’s being a bunt against the shift. That brought up Saturday’s hero, Mark Canha, and he got a 2-1 fastball right down the middle and punished it. The ball carried to the wall in center and just avoided the glove of Mauricio Dubon at the wall, bouncing around the warning track long enough for Canha to leg out a triple. 6-2 A’s, and still just one out on the board.
The problem with the Oakland’s lineup is its relentless nature, with no real weak points top to bottom to give the pitcher a break. The No. 6 hitter, Robbie Grossman, entered the day with a Top 15 wRC+ mark in MLB, and finished it closer to the Top 10 (up to 186 now) after reaching base three times — including a walk here in the 5th. The No. 7 hitter, Davis, is slumping now but is also one of the best home run hitters in MLB history; he fouled out here, though, against new reliever Dereck Rodriguez.
And then there’s the No. 8 hitter, Stephen Piscotty, who already has two 9th-inning grand slams on his resume this year, including a walk-off. He was Friday’s hero, and he came through again on Sunday. After fouling off four straight pitches, he got one he liked from Rodriguez.
This one was a moonshot. The 111.1 mph exit velocity fell short of Pinder’s, but it went a ridiculous 454 feet. That makes it the hardest-hit and longest dinger of Piscotty’s career, and it took the score to 9-2.
At this point you might be starting to think the Giants aren’t very good. But wait, there’s more!
Oakland now began their second time through the lineup, having batted around a full turn in the inning. Sean Murphy doubled, his second time reaching base after the leadoff walk from *checks notes* seven paragraphs ago. Marcus Semien, who had recorded the first out of the inning back when Giants fans were still watching, joined the party with another homer, his second in as many days.
Semien joins in on the HR Derby for the A's pic.twitter.com/b8mLwTf7gD— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) August 16, 2020
This wasn’t quite as mammoth as the others, at a more reasonable 379 feet, but it counts the same on the scoreboard. 11-2 A’s.
After one more single by Pinder, his second hit of the inning, Chapman flied out to finally, mercifully, end the nine-run frame — and even that was nearly another homer, requiring a running catch at the wall. Here’s a more concise summary:
- Murphy walk
- Semien lineout (1 out)
- Pinder homer — 2 RBI
- Chapman single
- Olson single
- Canha triple — 2 RBI
- Grossman walk
- Davis foulout (2 out)
- Piscotty homer — 3 RBI
- Murphy double
- Semien homer — 2 RBI
- Pinder single
- Chapman flyout (3 out)
Some franchise history, per official scorer David Feldman: “The 9 runs by the Athletics in the 5th were the most they have scored in an inning vs a NL team since game #4 of the 1929 World Series. (10 runs vs Cubs in 7th inn)”
Fun with numbers: After five runs in the ninth followed by four runs in the ninth, now we have nine runs in the fifth.— Carl Steward (@stewardsfolly) August 16, 2020
Even within the context of this series, which had seen two unlikely comebacks already, the game was effectively over at this point. At least the A’s were done scoring though, right?
Nah, they kept going.
Oakland got right back at it in the 6th, still facing Rodriguez. Olson and Davis singled, and Piscotty followed with a double to plate them both. That made 5 RBI for the right fielder, and ran the score to 13-2.
The Giants got one back in the 7th, but that just reawakened the A’s. In the 8th, Canha singled, Grossman tripled, and Davis brought him home with a groundout. It was Grossman’s second RBI triple of the series (albeit more like a single that skipped by the RF), and it was the second time in this game that Davis brought home the runner from third with less than two outs. 15-3 A’s.
Even the scoreless 9th wasn’t easy. Pinder doubled, and Vimael Machin (in off the bench) hit a strong liner to the gap, but the Giants finally made a good play. Dubon dove to make the grab, then doubled Pinder off second to end Oakland’s offensive day once and for all.
The box score, in all its glory.
The three singles by Olson broke a personal streak of seven straight hits going for homers over a span of 10 games. Kemp (usually batting 8th/9th) has a .444 OBP, their No. 6 hitter Grossman has a 1.021 OPS, their No. 8 hitter Piscotty has a .517 slugging, and their No. 9 hitting catcher Murphy has a .364 OBP. And there’s still room for improvement, as the main stars (Semien, Chapman, Olson) are still catching up their own numbers.
This was a rout instead of a mutual slugfest because Oakland’s pitching had a nice day too.
That began with Mike Fiers, who put up a quality start of six innings and two runs. He held his own when the game was close, and he kept eating outs after the score had been blown open. It’s the third time in his last four outings that he completed six frames, which is exactly his job requirement.
Fiers: 6 ip, 2 runs, 4 Ks, 1 BB, 1 HR, 7 hits, 91 pitches (59 strikes)
That’s a classic Fiers start, and if he keeps doing that then he’ll win a lot of games in front of this bonkers lineup.
After Fiers was done, and with the game long decided, we were treated to an MLB debut in the 7th inning.
Pitcher James Kaprielian, No. 6 on our Community Prospect List, the last great hope for the 2017 Sonny Gray trade, he who missed nearly three years to injury in the minors, finally stepped onto an MLB mound. (Scouting report here.)
We’ll take a closer look at Kaprielian’s outing in a separate post, but here’s the summary. His first batter, Brandon Crawford, took the third pitch deep for a homer, a rough start for the new guy. The next man walked, but Kap settled down and retired the following six in order — including a few more deep flyouts, and an almost-double foul ball.
The rookie was a bit wild, but there are three encouraging takeaways. First, only one of his seemingly loud outs had anything higher than a .100 expected batting average on Statcast, essentially worthless contact even if it wasn’t always weak. Second, he missed a lot of bats, earning swinging strikes on 20% of his pitches. Third, he averaged nearly 96 mph on his fastball and topped out at 96.9, allaying the serious concerns about his post-surgery velocity.
Kaprielian: 2 ip, 1 run, 1 K, 1 BB, 1 HR, 1 hit, 35 pitches (23 strikes)
However it may have looked, this was a solid debut with more good news than bad. I’ll trade an excusable first-career-batter dinger in exchange for finding out that Kap can still throw 97 mph for a swing-and-miss.
And with that, the sweep is complete, and it was spectacular. The A’s have the best record in MLB at 16-6, while the Giants sunk deeper into the NL West cellar. Next stop: Arizona on Monday, to face the Diamondbacks. It’ll be Chris Bassitt against righty Zac Gallen at 6:40 p.m.