For the past decade, Mitch Moreland has owned the Coliseum.
Anytime his Rangers or Red Sox teams rolled through Oakland to play the A’s, Mitchy Two Bags always thrived by the Bay. Through 2020 he had hit more homers here than any other visiting park, and his .900 OPS was more than 100 points better than his overall career mark.
He was clutch, too. In three of his 53 games at Rickey Henderson Field, he stepped into the batter’s box with his club tied or trailing in the 6th inning or later and delivered the RBI to break the tie or erase the deficit. A’s fans learned to get nervous when he was up in a high-leverage spot.
Then over the winter something wonderful happened. The A’s signed Moreland, meaning that any Coliseum magic he performed in 2021 would come in favor of the home team instead of against them. Of course these kinds of small-sample park splits aren’t serious or reliable, but when you see them with your own eyes enough times it’s hard not to believe. Or at least be curious to see what would happen if he donned the green and gold.
It turns out the magic is very much alive. Through 11 home games he’s only 5-for-30 at the Coliseum, with no extra-base hits, and he hasn’t fared any better on the road. But in that time, even without producing much at all, he’s already notched two walk-offs.
- Moreland, 2021 overall: 7-for-34, .206/.263/.206, 42 wRC+, 5 RBI, two walk-offs
Even on the scale of walk-offs, these were both enormous moments. By the seventh game of the season the A’s were still searching for their first win, and trying to avoid the worst start in franchise history. And they had to do it against the defending World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers.
Moreland came up in the 10th inning with runners on the corners and one out, needing just to hit the ball out of the infield to earn the win. That might sound easy, but the club hadn’t had any hits w/RISP nor even a sac fly all day. At the time Moreland was 2-for-20 on the year, but he took care of business when it mattered by drilling a single up the middle.
. . #RiseAndGrind pic.twitter.com/8Rc7HtCjgO— Oakland A's (@Athletics) April 7, 2021
He played again the next day but then pulled a hammy, and has only started twice since. But that hasn’t stopped him from continuing to make an uncanny impact at the Coliseum.
On Sunday, in the team’s 16th game of the season, the A’s were riding a seven-game win streak and looking for a sweep over the Detroit Tigers. It was down to the wire, tied in the 9th inning, and somebody would need to step up for Oakland to achieve their lofty goals. But again they were 0-for-6 w/RISP and without so much as a sac fly all day, as they’d struggled to cash in on any rallies they put together.
They got a chance in the 9th, with two on and two out. Moreland hadn’t started the game so he was available on the bench to pinch-hit, and the A’s called on him even against a lefty reliever, at the platoon disadvantage. We didn’t know it yet, but at this moment destiny had already foretold that the game was over.
It didn’t matter what Detroit did. They picked the runner off second and even got the out call, but it turned out the fielder dropped the ball so it didn’t count. Moreland then hit a grounder almost directly at the third baseman, but he smashed it so hard that it rocketed right past the glove and into left field, so close that it was ruled an error instead of a single.
That hit went toward the waiting arms of 2019 Gold Glove finalist Robbie Grossman, with the modestly paced Matt Olson trying to score from second. Grossman promptly sent a throw home, but it wouldn’t have mattered if it was Ramon Laureano trying to nab Billy Butler at the plate. Nothing was stopping this run from scoring.
️ #RiseAndGrind pic.twitter.com/wvbpv1AJOK— Oakland A's (@Athletics) April 18, 2021
Every part of the rational brain says there’s nothing special about Moreland at this park, and that this is a classic example of a fun statistical fluke. But dang. The question entering the year, whether joking or not, was whether he could keep being a clutch superstar at the Coliseum now that he was a member of the A’s, and the answer has turned out to be “actually he’ll turn it up a notch.” And he hasn’t even hit a double yet.
All kidding aside, there’s something to be said for the value of having a couple veteran professional hitters in the lineup. This A’s offense has no shortage of talent and power, but they’ve been beatable when needing to make contact in crucial moments. Incorporating Moreland and Jed Lowrie, with their tough at-bats and ability to keep the strikeouts in check, helps add the extra dimension that Tommy La Stella showed us last year. Specific stats might be noise, but the improvement to the lineup’s ability to come through when needed is absolutely real.
At the rate of two for every 11 games, Moreland is on pace for around 14 or 15 walk-offs in Oakland this year. Obviously that’s not going to happen. Right?
Two Mitch Moreland walk-offs. Two piggyback rides for Tony Kemp. pic.twitter.com/QpExROFc0k— Martín Gallegos (@MartinJGallegos) April 19, 2021