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Oakland A’s Game #57: Walk-off magic returns, A’s win 3-1 in 10th inning

Canha get a walk-off!

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Oakland Athletics
Now THAT is a star-studded photo
D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

Do you remember the beginning of the 2020 season, when the Oakland A’s would frustrate us for most of the game, right up until the end when a couple of outfielders would spur a clutch game-winning rally for a dramatic victory? Friday night was a return to that, with an emphasis on the “victory” part.

The A’s waited until the 10th inning to score, at which point Ramon Laureano hit a game-tying RBI double and then Mark Canha launched a two-run homer to earn a walk-off win over the Seattle Mariners at the Coliseum. It’s Oakland’s sixth walk-off in this 60-game campaign, and the second by Canha.

*** Game Thread #1 | Game Thread #2 | Game Thread #3 ***

Not much happened for the first nine innings. The A’s put together serious rallies in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 7th, and 8th, but did their usual shtick by going 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position during that span. Especially concerning was that Seattle starter Yusei Kikuchi entered the game with a 5.93 ERA, and despite ample opportunity they couldn’t find the plate against him for six frames.

On the other side of the ball, Chris Bassitt dominated, again. He spun seven scoreless innings and never let the Mariners reach third base, at one point retiring 14 straight batters. He finished with six strikeouts and no walks, scattering five hits and allowing almost no quality hard contact. He’s let through just one earned run in his last four starts combined.

Seattle finally broke the seal in the top of the 10th, thanks to their free automatic baserunner. A flyout moved him from second base to third, and then a passed ball brought him home, adding a completely and utterly unearned run to Jake Diekman’s sparkling record but not hurting his comical ERA — now 0.44 for the season. Fortunately, the lefty was let off the hook when Oakland’s lineup responded in the bottom half, netting him his second vultured relief win in the last three days.

Hottest starter in MLB

I haven’t checked to see if that headline is actually a true statement, but it would be tough to be hotter than Chris Bassitt right now.

Bassitt, last 4 gms: 0.34 ERA, 26⅓ ip, 25 Ks, 5 BB, 1 HR, 23 hits

That’s one run in nearly a month, and it came a couple weeks ago on a solo homer by Joey Gallo, which is fair enough. The latest chapter in that brilliant streak may have been the best one yet.

Bassitt, Fri: 7 ip, 0 runs, 6 Ks, 0 BB, 5 hits, 81 pitches (56 strikes)

Perhaps the most amazing part of that line is the mere 81 pitches — of which 17 were swinging strikes (21%). the second-most in any game by an A’s pitcher this year. When the Mariners did make contact, they only hit it hard about a half-dozen times, and most of those went on the ground. There were really only one or two loud outs.

This couldn’t be more classic A’s. Who did you think would be the ace of the rotation this year? Montas, after last year’s breakout? Luzardo, with his filthy stuff? Manaea, in a big bounce-back season? Maybe Puk if he’d been healthy? Nah, it’s Bassitt, the perpetually forgotten man who always seems in danger of being squeezed out into the bullpen even though he’s been a solid starter for years. It would be like if Robbie Grossman had spent most of the summer as the team’s best hitter — wait, that happened too? Why do we even bother ever trying to predict anything with this team?

Top of the 10th

Oakland almost squandered Bassitt’s gem, by failing to score for nine innings and letting the game go into extras.

Seattle got to pinch-run extreme speedster Dee Strange-Gordon as their free runner in the 10th, and he immediately moved to third on a flyout — even though Mark Canha’s perfect throw might have nabbed just about any other runner in the sport. Then Jake Diekman, he of the sub-1.00 ERA, missed his spot outside, and between that and the batter swinging through it, catcher Sean Murphy lost track of it for a passed ball all the way to the backstop. Strange-Gordon scored easily, for what would have been the must frustrating 1-0 loss in recent memory if the run had held up.

Bottom of the 10th

The A’s had three outs to work with, and they didn’t do much with the first two. First came a groundout, and then a flyout that moved the runner to third. They would need to hit safely to score him, unless Seattle felt like spotting them a run-scoring passed ball right back in a show of solidarity (they didn’t).

The final hope was Ramon Laureano, and he came through. He yanked a 104.8 mph liner to the wall in left field, easily plating the runner and getting him to second base for a double. It was Oakland’s first hit with a runner in scoring position all night.

But they didn’t settle for the tie. Mark Canha came up next, and resumed his role as one of the clutchest hitters in the lineup.

In addition to being the second walk-off of Canha’s season (the first was a sac fly against the Angels), it was also the fifth of his career. And while it was the team’s sixth of the year, it was their 200th in franchise history. The green and gold remains undefeated in extra innings this summer, perfect in six tries.

If you’re looking for encouraging signs, there were plenty here. The whole rally came with two outs, it included a pair of timely hits with runners in scoring position, and it was led by two key hitters who have struggled mightily in recent weeks. Sure, it would have been cooler to see them score earlier in the evening, especially off Kikuchi, but if you’re looking for signs of hope in this scuffling lineup then a thrilling last-minute surge to victory isn’t a bad one. Those happen in the postseason too — just ask the 2012-14 A’s, for better or worse. (Or the 1988 A’s, for much much worse.)

Playoff Seeding

The AL playoff field is evolving quickly.

This victory pushes the A’s back up to the No. 2 seed in the bracket, and thus away from a fun possible grudge matchup with the No. 6 Astros (who still haven’t clinched their spot yet). But even I don’t care about that right now after such a fun comeback win, despite talking about it so much lately. It was just nice to see the lineup recapture some of that magic, even as someone who doesn’t believe in momentum.

And anyway, the AL Central has continued to shuffle as well. The Indians have won enough to pass the White Sox for second place, or rather tie them while holding the tiebreaker. If the season ended tonight, Cleveland would be the No. 4 seed and Chicago would be the Wild Card No. 7 seed facing the A’s. What a twist! And there are still two more days until the whole thing is locked into place. I still specifically want the chance to knock the Astros out, but at least the alternative of the Sox isn’t quite as daunting as the Tribe’s unhittable rotation in a three-game series.

Just to make things that much zanier, Oakland will play a doubleheader Saturday, to make up their final postponement from the summer. It’ll be Mike Minor and 29th man Paul Blackburn on the mound for the A’s in the two halves of the twin-bill, starting at 1:10 p.m.