In an afternoon game defined by foreshadowing, the MVP might have been the Coliseum sun.
The Oakland A’s completed a four-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers on Sunday, with a walk-off 3-2 victory that extends their win streak to eight. The final blow came off the bat of pinch-hitter Mitch Moreland, his second walk-off plate appearance of the year already, but the whole thing was made possible by the blinding sky above.
*** Game Thread #1 | Game Thread #2 ***
Everything about this game felt like it was predestined before it happened, beginning with the A’s first run. In the 1st inning, with a runner on, Ramon Laureano drilled a ball into the RF corner, but the fielder made a great running catch a few feet in front of the wall. Perhaps it’s extra bases and an RBI without that play, or maybe it’s even a wallscraper homer without the wind effects robbing five feet off hits to that spot today, but instead it was an out.
Laser didn’t get robbed again in his next at-bat. In the 4th inning, with the same runner on, he went to CF this time and found the wall instead of a glove.
Ramón Laureano is good at baseball.#RiseAndGrind pic.twitter.com/5BsmqPF3uU— Oakland A's (@Athletics) April 18, 2021
The ball went 399 feet and just barely missed going over, but it was enough for the RBI triple that he hadn’t quite gotten before.
However, despite having three tries, the A’s weren’t able to bring Laureano home from third for a second run. That would be another theme of the day, as Oakland went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
The missed opportunity loomed large soon afterward. For two days the A’s pitching staff had shut out Detroit’s rebuilding lineup, but nobody in the majors stays silent forever, and they were bound to find the plate eventually. They just missed in the 1st inning, leaving the bases loaded, and then Chris Bassitt struck out half the batters he faced over the next four quiet frames.
Chris Bassitt, 96mph Fastball and 73mph Curveball, Overlay. pic.twitter.com/GNQmdx8mFu— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 18, 2021
Finally, in the 6th, the Tigers pounced. A leadoff walk sparked a rally, and with two outs there were runners on second and third. Bassitt needed one more K to wiggle out of the jam, but Harold Castro made contact and ripped one into RF for a single. That was enough for two runs, finally, and a Detroit lead. What can you say, they were due.
Bassitt: 6 ip, 2 runs, 8 Ks, 2 BB, 5 hits, 90 pitches, 85.9 mph EV
But if there’s one thing we’ve learned the last few years, it’s that this A’s group doesn’t give up in the late innings. They have a particular knack for comebacks, and no game in Oakland is over till it’s over.
Indeed, that was the case again today. The green-and-gold came charging back in the 8th inning, thanks to catcher Sean Murphy. Astros manager Dusty Baker once asked why his team was “pitching Murphy like he’s Johnny Bench or something” and Murphy provided a refresher on the answer, hammering a 112 mph liner over the CF fence in one of the toughest spots to homer in the entire majors.
ARE YOU SERIOUS, MURPH?!#RallyBuds | @budweiserusa pic.twitter.com/a0oR42qeuK— Oakland A's (@Athletics) April 18, 2021
That tied up the game at 2-2. The A’s went on to put runners on the corners, but to no avail. This one had to go to the 9th.
Oakland got through the top half without issue, and all they needed was one run. On a day when they couldn’t buy a clutch anything when they needed it.
But there was one other notable factor about this day, which is that it was the day and not the night. The Coliseum sun is notorious for the problems it gives fielders on fly balls, and we’d already seen it once in this very game. In the 6th, Tony Kemp flied out to deep CF, and Victor Reyes had so much trouble keeping an eye on it that he tumbled to the ground after barely making the grab.
In the 9th it happened again, but this time the sun finished the job. Matt Olson lofted a popup to medium/shallow center, and Reyes had no idea where it was. The ball dropped to the turf, and Olson pulled into second with a lucky double. Home-field advantage had taken full effect.
The Tigers wisely pitched around Murphy and walked him, and the A’s found themselves with runners on first and second and two out. They called on Moreland to pinch-hit.
The DH had started on the bench against lefty starter Matthew Boyd, and he would still have the platoon disadvantage here against a southpaw reliever, but there was an important detail in his favor. Oakland entered the day with one walk-off win this year, and it was a single against the Dodgers by Moreland, a veteran professional hitter with plenty of experience coming through in the clutch. A’s fans have seen him sink daggers in the Coliseum many times in other uniforms, and once already in green-and-gold.
Like all the other portents in this game, Clutch Moreland came true too.
But it almost didn’t! After the second pitch to Moreland, Detroit nearly picked off Olson, but the fielder couldn’t quite hold onto the ball for the tag. It was close enough that Angel Hernandez initially called Olson out before reversing it, which is to say, not really that close at all.
Four pitches later, nothing else could get in the way of the prophecy. Moreland smacked a 102 mph liner to the left side, and despite having him shifted perfectly, the ball skipped under third baseman Jeimer Candelario’s glove and into left field. Former A’s outfielder Robbie Grossman sent a throw home but couldn’t nab Olson, and the game was over. Even when the shift works, sometimes it doesn’t.
️ #RiseAndGrind pic.twitter.com/wvbpv1AJOK— Oakland A's (@Athletics) April 18, 2021
For Moreland it’s his second walk-off of the season in just the team’s 16th game, despite being just 7-for-34 (.206) overall. It was scored as an error, but it may as well have been a single. For Oakland, it’s their eight win in a row, and their second sweep of the week.
8 of them... #MurphBANGS pic.twitter.com/jayhVFfKMd— Chris Bassitt (@C_Bass419) April 18, 2021
There’s one more play worth highlighting in this game. One reason Bassitt got through his 1st inning jam unscathed was defensive help from Laureano, who managed to make an 8-5 forceout. With Grossman on second, the batter hit a bloop fly to center, and Grossman went halfway but stumbled at the worst moment, giving Laser plenty of time to fire to third and get the force.
RAMÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓN! #RiseAndGrind pic.twitter.com/mMJnuvpWCA— Oakland A's (@Athletics) April 18, 2021
Everybody knows not to run on Ramon. This is the rare instance where somebody was thrown out for not running enough on Ramon.
Also worth a note: The TV broadcast crew crushed this entire series. Glen Kuiper in particular was in top form today and made me laugh several times. The A’s could not be more fun right now, so let’s enjoy the wave as long as it lasts!
Glen Kuiper:— Alex Hall (@AlexHallAN) April 18, 2021
"Let's see, I've got Baddoo, hmm, 0-for-8 with 7 STRIIIiiiIIIKEouts"
"It's all in the diet. If you eat lots of pizza you'll live a long time."
"Last time I was in Stockton, I went in a restaurant, mentioned Dallas Braden's name and they charged me double."