The Oakland A’s finally won a game!
They needed seven tries, taking them within two outs of the worst start in all of franchise history, but the 2021 A’s finally snapped out of their funk and began competing. The result was a 10-inning, comeback, walk-off, 4-3 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday afternoon.
The A’s opened the day with an 0-6 record, having lost each of their first six games of the season in thorough fashion. That tied them with the 1916 Philadelphia Athletics for the longest futility streak to open a campaign, and in 120 seasons of club history no A’s team had ever started 0-7. In order to avoid that dubious distinction, they’d need to overcome reigning NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer and the defending world champion Dodgers.
The first step was keeping the opponent off the board long enough to have a chance at all, as each of the first six games included the A’s starter digging an early hole. Jesús Luzardo finally held the Dodgers at bay, allowing just one run in the first five innings. The lefty had to pitch around some trouble, including walking the bases loaded in the 1st, but at one point he retired 11 straight and he finished with six strikeouts.
Oakland took a gamble letting Luzardo begin the 6th inning and it didn’t work, as he put two of the first three batters on base and wound up with a second run on his record.
Reliever Adam Kolarek entered the jam and got the first groundout he needed, but then the defensive shift foiled the southpaw once again. Lefty batter Zack McKinstry poked a bunt to the open area by third base, and while Matt Chapman made a nice play to tag out a runner and end the inning, there was plenty of time for the inherited run to cross the plate.
A heads-up play by Chappy at third ended the inning but the run still scored pic.twitter.com/nzZza0eUiD— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) April 7, 2021
The game was still close through six innings, and there was no bullpen meltdown waiting. Sergio Romo allowed one more run in the 7th, but Jake Diekman, Lou Trivino, and Yusmeiro Petit locked it down the rest of the way for three scoreless frames.
Jake Diekman, Ridiculous 2 Time Zone Sliders...and Swords. ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/NFpdSohM8H— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 7, 2021
Three runs allowed in 10 innings? Against the Dodgers, even a version without banged-up Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger? That’s a winning effort, and on this day it was indeed just barely enough.
The A’s entered the day with 13 runs in six games, the worst per-game average in the American League. But they also had the 14th-best exit velocity in MLB, tied with the Yankees, so at least there was encouragement that they were hitting the ball hard.
It’s not that they scored more in this game, as they didn’t even set their season-high. But they scored what they needed, and got it done when they needed to, and the afternoon was loaded with positive signs.
It took until the 4th inning to get on the board, and it was a pure Ramon Run, in the spirit of Rickey Henderson. Ramon Laureano was hit by a pitch, then stole second. With a heavy defensive shift on a lefty batter and nobody holding him on second, he practically walked to third base, without even a throw. No sooner could the broadcast crew explain the value of the extra 90 feet than it came true in real life, as Bauer’s very next pitch was buried in the dirt and bounced away from the catcher, letting Laureano score.
If hitting the ball isn’t working out for your team, then try something else! Ramon went from the batter’s box to the plate without making contact nor being advanced by any batter’s actions at the plate. He just circled the bases for free, and between he and McKinstry each team provided textbook examples of how to exploit defensive shifts.
Two pitches later, Oakland nearly got another run. Seth Brown, making his season debut, launched a near-homer to right that sailed barely foul. For the second day in a row, the A’s missed a towering dinger off a Cy-caliber pitcher by just a couple feet on the wrong side of the foul pole, after Stephen Piscotty did it against Clayton Kershaw last night.
Instead, they waited until the 7th for their next tally, and this time they didn’t miss on their long ball attempt. Matt Chapman has been out of sync at the plate so far, and the 2-for-21 line he carried into this at-bat was actually generous, but he finally got a hold of one from Bauer.
That’s 108.9 mph of exit velocity. Anyone still wanna bet against Chappy getting settled back in at some point?
Despite those positives and highlights, though, the A’s still trailed when the 9th inning rolled around. It was only 3-2, but the size of the margin wouldn’t matter if they couldn’t close it immediately. They needed to score again, now.
And they pulled it off! Chapman hit it hard again, this time for a leadoff single. Brown walked, his second time on base despite his missed homer. Tony Kemp moved them over with a sac bunt. And Elvis Andrus, 1-for-24 to open the year, made enough contact to bring the runner home from third base, with a sac fly liner to center.
The game went to the 10th, with both clubs being granted a free runner on second base by the new extra-inning rule. Petit stranded his in the top half of the frame, and Dodgers reliever Jimmy Nelson was called on to keep Mark Canha from crossing the plate.
The first batter walked, and the second batter (Laureano) flew out deep enough to move Canha to third. Mitch Moreland, nursing a 2-for-20 season line, ripped a 103.3 mph liner up the middle. Walk-off!
Tip of the cap to Laureano’s productive flyout, which drew the outfield into shallower position. Would Moreland’s liner have gone the same with a runner on second? Maybe it would have, or maybe a deeper outfielder would have caught it. Either way, with the runner on third, it wouldn’t have mattered if it had been caught because a sac fly still would have worked (which is why the outfielder was playing shallow in the first place).
Good starting pitching. Good relief pitching. Enough offense, and clutch when required. How about the defense?
Yep that’ll work. In addition to reaching base twice, and almost homering, Brown also made the play of the game with his glove. In a one-run contest that went to extras and ended in a walk-off, that saved run was obviously critical.
Welcome back to MLB, Seth!
(Also, Chapman made all his plays at third base, including the highlight mentioned earlier.)
Let’s do this
The pitching, hitting, and defense were all good, and basically everyone in the lineup who’s been struggling came through big. Chapman was good on both sides of the ball, Andrus tied the game, and Moreland knocked in the winner. And Laureano, after missing a few games, made an impact in multiple ways as he usually does. And a bit of new blood came in and shook things up further, in the form of Brown.
Part of the problem with the first six losses was how completely they were dominated, making it hard to picture in your mind what a win would even look like. But every problem melted away today in the April sun, and they played more like the talented contender they’re supposed to be. It’s only one game, sure, but the slump was only six games.
“We all just got tired of getting our ass kicked,” said Luzardo.
The first six losses count in the standings, but it sure felt like the 2021 season finally began today for the A’s and that we finally watched the squad we envisioned a week ago. Not just because of the win, but because of how they performed overall.
Three teams in MLB history have made the playoffs after an 0-6 start, and Oakland will now try to become the fourth. Sounds like a very A’s thing to do, and I’m almost disappointed we’re not already on that list, so let’s do this.