If you were wondering what the Oakland A’s could do on Wednesday to top the excitement of yesterday’s doubleheader shutout sweep, you got your answer.
The A’s cranked their win streak up to 11 with a victory over the Minnesota Twins to complete a sweep in their series at the Coliseum, but that doesn’t even begin to describe what we just watched. The two clubs pounded each other’s pitching staffs for more than four hours, in a 10-inning thriller that featured several lead changes and seven homers and resulted in a 13-12 final score, ending in a walk-off two-run error.
Settle in, this could take a while to explain.
After last night’s quiet 1-0 finale, both teams came out swinging this afternoon, and they each had answers for everything they threw at each other. Through five innings they’d slugged three homers apiece, they’d both scored a run on a wild pitch, and the tally was knotted 7-7, with both starting pitchers long gone.
From there the Twins rallied for three more in the top of the 6th, and the A’s came back in the bottom half. Oakland’s response rally fell a run short, but they got it back in the 9th to force extras.
The 10th inning saw both team’s closers come out for a second frame of work, protecting against the automatic runner on second base, and it didn’t go well for either hurler. The A’s allowed a two-run homer, and then the Twins blinked even harder, walking the bases loaded and then committing two errors on routine, potential game-ending grounders to effectively hand the game to Oakland. The green-and-gold didn’t even notch a hit in their winning three-unearned-run rally, but it counts all the same.
Act 1: Early fireworks
The first five innings set the mood. This wasn’t going to be a pitcher’s duel between Frankie Montas and Cy Young runner-up Kenta Maeda. This was going to be a slugfest, and it might not be over until the final pitch.
In the 1st, Josh Donaldson homered for an early lead, a 1-0 advantage that now seems quaint in retrospect. In the 2nd, Matt Olson matched him.
Then the A’s raised the bid. Two runners got aboard, Elvis Andrus knocked one home with a sharp single up the middle, and Seth Brown alertly scored on a wild pitch to make it 3-1.
Minnesota answered in the 3rd, with an RBI single from Donaldson and a two-run dinger by Nelson Cruz to make it 4-3. But the A’s charged right back in the bottom of the inning, with a double by Jed Lowrie and a two-run dinger by Olson.
Brown followed with another two-run long ball to make it 7-4.
But Minnesota wouldn’t relent. Leading off the 5th, Cruz homered again, his second on the day just like Olson. J.B. Wendelken uncorked a wild pitch to let another run home, just as Maeda had done earlier. And then something new happened, as the A’s got the grounder they needed to end the inning with the lead intact, but second baseman Lowrie flubbed it for an unearned run to tie the score. The Twins hadn’t done that yet, but, foreshadowing, they would later.
After a full day’s worth of action, we were only through five innings and nothing at all had been decided. It was 7-7 entering the 6th.
Act 2: Coming up clutch
The game didn’t stay tied for long. The Twins weren’t fooled by Sergio Romo’s sliders, offering an array of hard and soft contact that resulted in four hits and three runs. Oakland was right back in a hole.
Then they climbed right back out in the bottom of the 6th, mostly. Between some grounders and stolen bases, the A’s got runners to second and third, Mark Canha and Andrus respectively. The “single” by Canha was particularly fortunate, as luck did not smile upon Donaldson in his return to his old Coliseum hot corner.
The ball did not want to come out of Donaldson's glove pic.twitter.com/4j2fNtTtvs— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) April 21, 2021
With two outs on the board, the Twins brought in a lefty reliever to turn Lowrie to the right side of the plate. The problem with that plan is that Lowrie might be an even better righty hitter than he is lefty, and he showed it by drilling a liner into the right-center gap for a double. It was his second double of the game, one from each batter’s box.
Olson came up next and nearly completed the comeback. He barreled the first pitch 107.8 mph into the left-center gap, but former Platinum Glove winner Byron Buxton made an excellent diving catch to rob it and end the inning, stranding the would-be tying run.
Can you imagine if the 10-9 score had held up and that catch was the difference in the game? You’d have to tip your cap.
Buxton blocked the extra point— Melissa Lockard (@melissalockard) April 21, 2021
But this was far from over. The A’s bided their time until the 9th, and then pounced. Ramon Laureano reached base when a pitch barely clipped his baggy jersey, which was enough to spark another rally. Olson singled directly through the shift, such a blast that it didn’t matter what defenders might be standing in the way. The exit velocity was 110.7 mph, his fourth time over 100 today and the sharpest one yet.
With one out on the board, all Matt Chapman had to do was make some contact, anything but a strikeout, popout, or double play. He nearly homered down the line in right, but it landed foul by a couple feet, perhaps inches. Then he got the job done, with a liner to left that was plenty deep to bring home Laureano. Tie game, and ultimately extra innings.
Act 3: The 10th inning
It came down to a battle of closers. Neither one was coming in fresh, and both had to contend with the new automatic runner on second base.
For Oakland that meant Lou Trivino. He pitched Tuesday night, and had already entered this game in the 9th and thrown 25 pitches to get through that frame. He fanned his first batter in the 10th, but then Buxton struck again, this time with his bat. It was a monster 423-foot shot, and at 111.0 mph exit velocity it was the hardest-hit ball in a game that featured 21 pieces of triple-digit contact.
Trivino got the next batter, and Deolis Guerra came in to retire one more, but the damage had been done. The A’s needed a comeback, for the fourth time today.
They’d have to do it against Twins closer Alex Colome, but hey, they’d already gotten him once today. Colome had also entered in the 9th, when his team was up 10-9, and blown that save chance. Could Oakland pull a repeat a few minutes later?
It didn’t begin well. The first batter flew out, and the next struck out. Down to their final chance.
But then Brown walked. And then Andrus walked, and suddenly the bases were loaded, with the top of the order coming up in Canha.
For the first nine innings of this game, the Twins had Donaldson playing third base and Luis Arraez at second. But in the 10th they had Donaldson lined up as their auto-runner, and instead they pinch-ran for him with Travis Blankenhorn. The move made sense at the time, but it didn’t end up helping since Blankenhorn trotted home on a dinger anyway, making speed irrelevant. And then it went horribly wrong.
Canha swung at his second pitch and hit a dribbler to second. After sitting on the bench for four hours watching this mayhem unfold, Blankenhorn was suddenly in the middle of it, and he clanked the routine grounder. It could have ended the game right there, but everybody was safe and a run was home. It was 12-11, still bases loaded.
Up came Laureano. He fouled off five pitches, and then, on Colome’s 49th offering of the day, Laureano hit a routine grounder to third. But instead of former Fielding Bible winner Donaldson, the position was now manned by Arraez, fresh off nine innings on the other side of the diamond. He airmailed the throw over the first baseman’s head, all the way to the backstop.
Laureano was safe, two runs scored, and the A’s grasped victory from the jaws of defeat with an unbelievable walk-off win. Laureano’s grounder did indeed turn out to be a game-ender, just not for the team it should have been.
That last throw really had arraez to it— Eric Stephen (@ericstephen) April 22, 2021
The play-by-play for the inning: flyout, strikeout, walk, walk, error, error. Zero hits. Three runs. One win.
After the fifth game of the season, a fifth straight opening loss, I began my recap by asking, “What can you really say at this point?” I now pose the same question, but with the opposite connotation, after 11 straight wins including this instant classic.
Because what more can you really say? This club is absolutely charmed right now on top of its undeniable talent, and we should simply enjoy this run as long as it lasts. Even when one part of their roster has an off-day, they’ve got enough to make up for it, and they’re already re-establishing the knack for comebacks that we saw the last few years. At the very least they’ve ended any doubt that they’re here to contend this season.
They’ll cool off and even lose a game eventually, but until then, don’t try to explain it. Just ride the wave.