The Oakland A’s 2020 season series against the Los Angeles Angels ended exactly how it began — with a walk-off victory for Oakland in the 10th inning.
Mark Canha pushed across the winning run with a sacrifice fly, and the A’s overcame the Halos on Sunday 5-4 in their 10th and final meeting of the year. Oakland captured six of those 10 matchups.
The A’s began their season with a similar win over the Angels on Opening Day, in which they fell behind, caught up, went to extras, and won on a walk-off grand slam by Matt Olson. Sunday’s winning drive by Canha was less dramatic, but it still yielded the same result in the standings and brought the season series full circle.
The Angels were in control for most of the day, thanks to an early homer by Shohei Ohtani. However, the A’s chipped away against one of their top nemeses of the summer, starting pitcher Dylan Bundy, and by the end of the 6th they’d tied the score. It remained that way through the end of regulation, forcing extra innings.
As they have every time they’ve reached extras this year, Oakland came through. With the automatic runner on second base, Matt Chapman singled him to third, and Canha lifted a fly to right-center plenty deep to score the lead man. That man, by the way, was pinch-runner and apparent good-luck charm Franklin Barreto, who is building a knack for crossing the plate for clutch late-game tallies.
While the offense had a nice bounce-back day, going 5-for-10 with runners in scoring position and coming through in the crucial moment as they hadn’t done in Saturday’s loss, the bullpen was once again a collective hero. The relievers combined for 5⅓ scoreless innings, and also got Frankie Montas out of his final jam of the day, all of which gave the A’s lineup enough time to complete their comeback.
The A’s struck first in this game, but the Angels struck harder.
Oakland starter Frankie Montas, who was lit up his last time out to the tune of nine runs, improved on Sunday but still wasn’t his sharpest. He worked around multiple runners in each of the first two innings, but the Halos finally got to him in the 3rd. A couple singles set the stage, and then Montas left a sinker up to Shohei Ohtani and paid the price — an absolute rocket at 111.3 mph off the bat, enough to send it 439 feet to the opposite field for a three-run homer.
Making that dinger even more frustrating was that Ohtani was mired in an awful slump, going 1-for-23 over the past week — and his xwOBA suggested it wasn’t just bad luck. But the 23-year-old has unquestionable talent and was always going to get back on track. and unfortunately it came against the A’s.
The Angels got another in the 5th, stringing together a rally ending in an RBI single from Brian Goodwin. That made the score 4-2 at the time and knocked Montas out of the game, with J.B Wendelken entering to end the threat without further damage.
Montas: 4⅔ ip, 4 runs, 5 Ks, 3 BB, 1 HR, 7 hits, 96 pitches (56 strikes)
Not his best work, but at least better than his disaster last week against Arizona. He still missed some bats, and only five of the 16 batted balls against him were hard-hit. And he kept things close enough for his team to win.
In his first two tries against the A’s this year, breakout starter Dylan Bundy dominated them. He threw 13⅔ innings total and allowed just one run, with 17 strikeouts to one walk. The third time turned out to be the charm for Oakland.
Bundy was still good, but the A’s were able to get to him just enough. They got some help in the 1st inning with a missed catch error by right field rookie Jo Adell, putting leadoff man Marcus Semien on board. But from there they earned everything, with a sharp double by Matt Chapman and then a soft but clean single from Mark Canha.
The RBI hits both came with two outs so the runs were unearned, but that’s not a bad thing. If anything, it’s encouraging to see the stars collect clutch knocks with runners in scoring position and two outs, even if they did get a gift to open the frame. Remember, the thing they’ve struggled with this year is finding that hit w/ RISP, and they did it twice in this inning, which is a more important takeaway then how that R got ISP in the first place.
From there Bundy cruised through the 5th inning, giving A’s fans a bad feeling about the game. A settled-in starter with a lead in hand can be a tough thing to overcome, but the green and gold did just that.
In the 6th, with Bundy one batter away from a quality start, Oakland produced another two-out rally. Robbie Grossman lined a double, and Stephen Piscotty smoked a single (103.7 mph) to bring him in. Then the BABIP gods took over, with Tony Kemp and Sean Murphy each dribbling grounders up the middle to find holes in the Halos infield. Murphy’s single brought home Piscotty, despite its .040 expected batting average.
Just like that, the game was tied. They didn’t hang a loss on Bundy, but they didn’t let him beat them again. It was now a battle of the bullpens, with one of the best (A’s) facing one of the worst (Angels).
Goose Egg Crew
Eh, that’s dumb, don’t call them that. But it is accurate.
The A’s bullpen remains scorching hot. They weren’t quite as dominant as usual, but still didn’t let a run across.
First up was J.B. Wendelken, who stranded Montas’ final two runners in the 5th, then pitched around two of his own in the 6th. Next up, Jake Diekman worked around a single in the 7th and a walk in the 8th for two scoreless frames. Joakim Soria walked a pair in the 9th but got out of it, and then Liam Hendriks went 1-2-3 in the 10th to strand the free runner, despite one of the most laughable strike zones you’ll ever see in an MLB game. It was Angel Hernandez bad, courtesy of home plate ump Jim Reynolds. More on that later.
Bullpen: 5⅓ ip, 0 runs, 5 Ks, 4 BB, 2 hits, 91 pitches (55 strikes)
That’s not a small amount of baserunners, but you’ll take the result of zero runs, especially knowing this is the bad version of the A’s pen so far this summer. Enjoy it while it lasts, because you never know when relievers will turn into pumpkins, even good relievers.
Canha get a walk-off?
Quick summary of Mark Canha’s last week-plus: Against the Giants last weekend, he drove in the winning run in the 10th in the Friday game, and then the winning comeback homer in the 9th in the Saturday game. In this one, he plated the winning run for the third time in the team’s last 10 contests. This walk-off was a repeat of his first winner against the Giants (which was on the road so it wasn’t a walk-off itself).
Oakland began the inning by pinch-running speedy Franklin Barreto, as slugger Matt Olson was scheduled to be the free runner at second base. Matt Chapman led off with a single to left, his third batted ball of 100+ mph on the day. However, the liner was low enough that Barreto had to hold up to make sure shortstop Andrelton Simmons wouldn’t leap and catch it.
While Barreto wasn’t able to score, he still got to third with nobody out. At this point they only needed a flyout to win it, and Canha got it done on the fourth pitch he saw.
That’s the A’s fourth walk-off of the year, joining Olson, Piscotty, and Semien as authors. It’s also Oakland’s fifth extra-inning victory in as many tries. For Barreto, he scored the go-ahead run on Piscotty’s walk-off slam a few weeks ago, and also came home on Canha’s winning homer against the Giants, and now he can add this one to the list. Even though he never actually plays, he’s quickly racking up notable moments on the field.
The A’s are the best defensive team in the majors, but on Saturday their fielding betrayed them. Chapman made three uncharacterstic mistakes, leading to all four runs the Angels scored, and with his normal signature Platinum work Oakland may well have won. Two other players also committed less costly errors in that game.
On Sunday, they got back to normal, and the first highlight came from center fielder Ramon Laureano in the 3rd inning. His sliding attempt on a shallow fly came up short, but the runner at first base had to hold to find out if he’d catch it. Laureano snared the short hop and immediately fired to second base, where Montas of all people had the presence of mind to cover the bag — great heads-up play for a pitcher!
The throw got there in time to force the runner. Two batters later, Ohtani hit his homer, meaning this effort likely saved a run.
Semien added another nice play in the 8th. With the score tied and a runner already on base, the Angels hit a grounder up the middle. However, Semien made a diving stop and flipped to second for the force, turning a potential rally into one on, two out.
Finally, catcher Sean Murphy is already showing off his reputation as an elite defender. He threw out Mike Trout stealing (but lost the out call when Semien clanked the receiving catch), and more importantly he prevented a couple runs with good blocking skills.
Sean Murphy's made two picks on balls in the dirt with runners on third in this game that have saved runs each time. He's amazing back there.— Melissa Lockard (@melissalockard) August 23, 2020
Add in a nice running catch by Piscotty in the 1st inning, and overall this was the A’s defense we’re used to seeing. All the routine plays, plus some gems mixed in that helped prevent further damage.
Robot umps now
As if the Los Angeles Angels weren’t bad enough, home plate umpire Jim Reynolds did his best impression of an even worse Angel, fellow ump Hernandez. It didn’t end up mattering so we can laugh about it now, but the strike zone was all over the place. Here are a couple prime examples.
In the 1st inning, Grossman was rung up looking. That’s unusual for one of the best batting eyes in the sport, but it makes a bit more sense when you see the called Strike 3.
The pitch in question is the orange dot several inches off the upper-outside corner. And no, this wasn’t a situation where there was a wide zone all night and I’m taking this one call out of context. It was just a plain flub by Reynolds.
But that was nothing compared with what happened in the 10th. Fortunately the batter was retired eventually, but he was spotted a 2-0 count on two pitches that were blatantly within the zone. The first is one of the worst missed calls you’ll ever, ever see in the majors. Stunningly egregious.
You’re looking at the two blue dots within the rectangle of the strike zone. The lower one is something that can’t happen in an MLB game, not even once, not even in a blowout much less a tied 10th inning. And there’s nothing misleading about that diagram, as it looked even better than that in real life.
Just a fastball straight down the middle. Unreal.
Again, none of this matters because the A’s won anyway. But it was bad enough to be worth mentioning.
Welcome to 2020
Baseball in the year of coronavirus.
Manaea and Fiers are air thumb wrestling in the stands— Michael Wagaman (@MWagaman) August 23, 2020
“Please tell me they were at least using their non-pitching hands.” - Bull Durham, probably
This was the A’s 29th game of the 60-game schedule, which means they’ll reach the halfway point of the season on Monday. That milestone matchup will come against the Texas Rangers, beginning a 10-game road trip to Arlington, Houston, and Seattle to face the rest of the AL West. The opener will pit Jesús Luzardo against Lance Lynn at 5:05 p.m. PT.