Over the last week, nearly the entire Oakland A’s lineup heated up after an early slump, except for Marcus Semien. On Friday, on a night when nobody else on the team could find the clutch hit they needed, Semien finally got his big highlight.
The A’s shortstop drilled a walk-off single into the right-center gap to give the green and gold a thrilling 3-2 victory in a 13-inning game that stretched over four hours. Oakland now has a seven-game winning streak.
Neither team could figure out a way to push across runs throughout the night, even with a free runner on second base in each inning after the 9th. Entering the 13th, they were a combined 3-for-28 with runners in scoring position, and only one of those knocks (by the Astros) even scored the runner. The A’s at that time had put a runner on third with less than two out on seven occasions, only to go 0-for-7 with six strikeouts and a double play.
But in the final frame, they both finally broke through. Houston got an RBI double from third baseman Alex Bregman to take the lead in the top half. Oakland responded with an RBI single from catcher Austin Allen to tie it and then Semien’s drive to seal the comeback win.
Naturally, all of that means the pitching was incredible. Chris Bassitt threw seven sparkling innings for the A’s, and Zack Greinke tossed six scoreless for Houston, while each bullpen got themselves out of jam after jam in extras.
It wasn’t a pretty win, but it counts the same in the standings and it was a prime example of a great team doing whatever it takes to scratch out a victory. It didn’t look like playoff baseball, but it was suspenseful enough to feel like it.
It feels like a week ago, but this game began with quite a duel between Oakland’s Chris Bassitt and Houston’s Zack Greinke.
Between the two starters, only one run crossed the plate, even though there was at least one runner on base in nearly every half-inning against them. In the 3rd, Astros outfielder Kyle Tucker doubled off the wall to drive home a runner from second, and that run stood alone for most of regulation.
- Bassitt: 7 ip, 1 run, 3 Ks, 3 BB, 0 HR, 3 hits, 92 pitches (58 strikes)
- Greinke: 6 ip, 0 runs, 5 Ks, 1 BB, 0 HR, 5 hits, 84 pitches (47 strikes)
Bassitt didn’t miss a lot of bats, but he did induce mostly low-percentage contact. There were only two loud outs that should reasonably have been hits, and the rest of the other hard contact was mostly popups. It was exactly the same story for Greinke.
Between these two gutsy efforts, the score was just 1-0 entering the bottom of the 7th.
Grossman ties it
There was just one flaw in Greinke’s game: He only went six innings. That opened up Oakland’s secret weapon, which is coming back against the opposing bullpen.
The A’s are batting under the Mendoza Line against starters this year, but their OPS jumps around 300 points once the relievers take over. That’s led to a theme all year of struggling early and falling behind, only to come back in the late innings. If they can just chase the starter, then they’ve got a chance, and it happened again Friday.
The Astros turned to Josh James for the 7th inning, and the second batter he faced was Robbie Grossman. The switch-hitter went after the first pitch and smoked it, 411 feet. Tie game.
Grossman had been 0-for-10 since driving in the winning run in the 10th last Saturday, but he got back in gear in this game. In addition to his extra-clutch first dinger of the year to tie it, he reached base a total of four times, including an intentional walk and two HBPs — albeit, all of those free passes were complete gifts. He also eventually scored the winning run.
Zeroes as far as the eye can see
-“Brian, there’s a message in my Alpha-Bits. It says ‘ooooooo.’”
-“Peter, those are Cheerios.”
Whether you call them goose eggs, or donuts, or whatever else, the scoreboard was full of them. Through 24 half-innings of play, only two of them included a run.
The A’s had plenty of chances. They reached base in the 2nd and 3rd, reached scoring position in the 4th and 5th, and got a leadoff triple in the 6th. But they couldn’t bring any of them home until Grossman’s long ball, and then they went right back to tantalizing futility for another five frames after that.
The free runner in extras didn’t help. They bunted him over to third base in the 10th but then struck out twice, loaded ‘em up in the 11th but struck out three times, and loaded ‘em again in the 12th but couldn’t get an RBI from their three biggest stars (Semien and the Matts). They left a whopping 18 runners on base.
They finally got it done in the 13th, but only after a game-and-a-third worth of missed opportunities. Thanks goodness for the bullpen.
The bullpen’s night began typically enough. Joakim Soria came in for a brisk scoreless 8th, which is apparently just a regular thing now. Then Liam Hendriks locked down the 9th on 10 pitches. When the game went to extras, Jake Diekman threw a dozen pitches to retire the side in order and strand the free runner, with some help from Matt Chapman’s Platinum Glove to rob the potential go-ahead hit.
But then the game didn’t end. Oakland’s lineup usually has it wrapped up by the bottom of the 10th, but this time it took longer. That’s when J.B. Wendelken stepped in to save the day.
The right-hander and perpetual breakout candidate entered for the 11th inning, and worked around a walk to strand the free runner. In the 12th he allowed a hit, but it wasn’t enough to score the runner from second, and J.B. wiggled his way out yet again.
In the 13th, the magic finally began to run short. Bregman’s double drove home the first run since the 7th, and the deadlock was broken. Fortunately, Wendelken got out of it without further damage.
Wendelken: 3 ip, 1 run (0 earned), 1 K, 1 BB, 0 HR, 2 hits, 31 pitches (19 strikes)
It might seem weird to celebrate a pitcher who nearly got tagged with the loss. Sure, he did eventually let the Astros score, but he held out long enough for his own lineup to finally get their act together. If he succumbs in the 11th then maybe it’s a 2-1 Houston final, but instead he bought a bunch of extra time and that helped make the difference. Relief wins are a dumb individual stat, but this one was truly deserved.
After 12 innings of frustration, 13 was the lucky number for the A’s lineup. They began the frame staring at a one-run deficit, with three outs and a free runner to work with.
Mark Canha and Khris Davis both got out against Houston reliever Cy Sneed, with nothing to show for it except the runner moving up 90 feet to not-home-plate. The final chance was Grossman, which was an unbelievable coincidence — last summer, he had notched a 13th-inning walk-off against none other than Sneed himself. Rather than repeating that history, and also considering that Grossman had already been the hero once in this game in the 7th, the Astros took the bat out of his hands with an intentional walk.
Instead, Houston took their chances with catcher Austin Allen. The gamble didn’t pay off, as Allen watched two fat fastballs go by for strikes and then connected on the third one for a liner up the middle. Free runner in to score, game tied once more.
It’s the second time this week that Allen has played hero, after his first career homer on Wednesday turned a late deficit into a permanent lead.
The next batter walked, and that brought up Semien. Last year’s third-place MVP finisher is off to a rough start so far, batting .177 entering this at-bat with basically no walks or extra-base hits (two of each). But he was always going to wake up at some point, and he picked a particularly valuable moment to do so.
It was Semien’s second career walk-off, after earning one on Opening Day 2018. It’s Oakland’s third of the season, and their first to come on something other than a grand slam. The A’s are now 3-0 in extra innings, and undefeated in a trio of one-run games so far. The winning run? Grossman, whom the Astros had intentionally put aboard a few batters earlier.
Tony is great
Not to be missed amid all the highlights and factoids is Tony Kemp, who is quietly on fire for the green and gold. He reached base four more times on Friday (one hit, three walks), and has now reached in 11 of his last 18 plate appearances. Two of his walks came in the 12th and 13th innings, helping move the line along to the top of the order.
He could have had even one more opportunity. In the 10th, with their first crack at the free runner, the A’s had Kemp lay down a bunt to move him to third. That brought up Semien, who struck out, and then another strikeout ultimately ended the threat. I found that to be a curious move — give up one of your hottest hitters to go all-in on your single coldest hitter. Of course, Semien did in fact end up getting the winning hit later, which perhaps helps justify this earlier decision a little, but I’d still rather see three chances at a game-winning single than one chance at a sac fly plus one more at a single.
But that’s just one nitpick and it didn’t end up mattering (and could just as easily have paid off). For years, Kemp was the pesky No. 9 hitter who would annoyingly draw walks ahead of the Astros’ terrifying star hitters, and now he’s doing the same for the A’s.
He also made a great play on defense:
Sure is nice having a second baseman who can reliably make a throw to first.
Seven in a row
The A’s are now on a seven-game winning streak, which is like 18.9 games’ worth in this shortened season. We’re already nearly a quarter of the way through the 60-game campaign and Oakland is 10-4, and 3.5 games up in the AL West division. This is exactly the fast start we were hoping for in the 2020 sprint.
The two clubs are right back at it less than 15 hours after finishing this marathon. Frankie Montas goes for the A’s, and lefty Framber Valdez for the Astros, at 1:10 p.m.