It had been a long time since the Oakland A’s beat the Colorado Rockies. They don’t play each other every year since they’re in opposite leagues, so you had to go back to 2015 to find the last time Oakland came out on top — until Wednesday afternoon.
The A’s finally solved the Rockies with a 3-1 victory, flipping the score from their loss in the mountains the previous night. They now mercifully get a day off Thursday, after a brutal stretch of 16 games in 13 days.
After winning the finale of their 2015 interleague series together, Oakland was swept by Colorado in three dates in 2018 despite being hot at the time — those three losses were sandwiched in between a pair of six-game winning streaks by the A’s. Then the Rockies swept two more this past July, and came out on top again last night.
Oakland earned this win despite not hitting any homers and going 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. All it took was the novel concept of making contact with a runner on third, as two of their runs came home on groundouts.
While the lineup was scratching out just enough scoring, the pitching staff was silencing the opponent in the friendliest hitter’s park in the majors. Mike Fiers turned in a quality effort with six innings of one-run ball, and the team has now won eight of his 10 starts this year. Jake Diekman and Liam Hendriks followed by retiring nine of the final 11 batters, five via strikeout, while scattering just a pair of singles.
In the 3rd inning, Tony Kemp got the scoring started with his own version of a Rickey Run, but without stealing any bases.
He started it off with his signature Kemp move, a leadoff walk from the No. 9 spot in the lineup. After seeing him do that so many times in an Astros uniform, I still haven’t gotten over the glee it gives me when he pulls it off in green and gold.
Now on base, he irritated the pitcher enough to draw a pickoff throw to first, and it skipped past for an error that allowed him to move up to second. If it hadn’t hit the ump on the way by, maybe he would have gone all the way to third on the play. He got there anyway, though, as the Rockies soon uncorked a wild pitch to gift him another 90 feet.
With Kemp now on third base (and Marcus Semien on first) and nobody out, Robbie Grossman pulled a grounder to the right side. Only the corner infielders had been playing in and Kemp ran on contact, but the ball went right at first baseman Josh Fuentes. With Kemp caught halfway, Fuentes threw to third and got him in a rundown.
This was where things got weird. Normally you’d expect Kemp to stay in the rundown long enough for the trail runner Semien to get to third. And he did! But Semien got to the bag right as third baseman Nolan Arenado was already holding the ball, and Arenado turned and tagged Semien for what can only be described as a TOOTBLAN but with the first T standing for Tagged instead of Thrown.
With Arenado distracted, and no more value in sacrificing himself, Kemp turned back and bolted home. Arenado dropped the ball, picked it up, and delivered it to the Fuentes covering at the plate in plenty of time to beat Kemp. However, Kemp unleashed a Matrix move to somehow spin around and over the tag, all while reaching his hand out to swipe the plate in the same motion. It was an unbelievable effort, and it was rewarded with a safe call — and the Rockies didn’t even challenge.
Here’s just the “slide”:
Kemp is not a perfect player and you could argue that he’d be better cast on the bench than in the starting lineup, but he sure does make things happen. I’ve been saying this all year, but next month he’s going to make some crazy play you’ve never seen before that wins Oakland a postseason game.
In the opener on Tuesday, the A’s found themselves locked in a tight game with the Rockies but went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position, dooming them when they couldn’t make a final push for victory. They didn’t repeat that zero on Wednesday.
In the 6th inning, with the score knotted 1-1, Oakland got the rally they needed to break the tie and put them over the top. And the new guys factored in heavily.
Tommy La Stella started it off with a single, as he continues to serve as an excellent table-setter. Matt Olson followed with a double, breaking an 0-for-18 streak dating back to Saturday (and featuring 10 strikeouts).
For the fourth time in the game, the A’s had runners in scoring position with less than two out, and for the third time they had them with nobody out, with only the Tony Run to show for it. Now they came through.
Mark Canha started with some simple contact, just a groundout to the second baseman, who had to range far enough to have no chance at throwing home. One run in. Then Jake Lamb made some hard contact, lining it to right for a single to bring home a second run. That’s a RALLY, as in a rally that has been capitalized upon.
The A’s had six hits all day, and four of them came from La Stella and Lamb, the two newest members of the lineup. Lamb in particular is 5-for-11 since arriving, and even one of those few outs came in the 9th inning on a completely blown strike call — it wasn’t even close (low and outside) and should have been Ball 4.
Hendriks says every time Lamb gets a hit, the A’s bullpen has been baaa-ing.— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) September 16, 2020
Funny, I just saw the future and AN is now doing this in our Game Threads too.
We saw last year what can happen when Mike Fiers gets on a roll, when he reeled off 13 quality starts in a row and 15 out of 17. Old Reliable is at it again.
In eight of his 10 starts this year, Fiers has gone five or six innings and allowed four or fewer runs. They don’t always quite register as quality starts, but they’re always enough to keep the team in the game and save the bullpen from working overtime. Oakland has won all but one of those eight games.
The most recent example came tonight. He cruised through six innings, running into rallies in half of them but calmly working his way out of trouble more often than not. The lone exception came in the 3rd, right after the A’s scored their Tony Run. Three straight singles were enough to push a run across, the final one a pop-up to no-man’s land that BABIP’d its way down to the turf for a fortuitous RBI.
Fiers: 6 ip, 1 run, 4 Ks, 0 BB, 0 HR, 7 hits, 77 pitches (52 strikes)
He kept the hard contact to a minimum, even less than his hit total would suggest, and he further helped himself by avoiding walks entirely. A flyball pitcher could have a tough time in the expansive outfield of Coors, but he limited the Rockies to just one extra-base hit.
What’s left to be said about the bullpen? The final innings of close games have almost become afterthoughts at this point because they’re so automatic, a thing you should never say or write lest you jinx it.
This time it only took Jake Diekman and Liam Hendriks to finish off three frames. They struck out nearly half the batters they faced, and never let the Rockies as far as second base. They’re simply dominating right now, and if that continues into October then Oakland is going to have a huge advantage in the playoffs.
Fun stat: The A’s are now 21-0 when Hendriks pitches in the game.
Shades of Platinum
With Matt Chapman out, you have to imagine there will be a new Platinum Glove winner in the AL this year. I nominate Matt Olson.
And that’s only the second-best play Olson has made in this series. What other first basemen even make that throw? And how many of them do so routinely, and get the out every time? He turns an overlooked defensive position into an actual game-changing factor.
And finally, the A’s get a day off. After 16 games in 13 days, and most recently seven games in five days in three cities, they finally get to fly home and take a breath — of actual, mostly clean, sea-level air.
Starting Friday, there are 10 games left in the regular season, leading off with the second half of the Bay Bridge Series against the Giants. The A’s swept the first half in San Francisco, so if they win just one of the three at the Coliseum this weekend then they’ll retake the Bridge Trophy. More importantly, the Magic Number to win the AL West division is down to four, since Oakland holds the tiebreaker over the Astros.