The Oakland A’s play their home games at the Coliseum on Rickey Henderson Field, and their performance Sunday surely made the diamond’s namesake proud.
The A’s defeated the Baltimore Orioles 7-5 to avoid a weekend sweep, and along the way they showed off the new aggressive style we’ve seen from them all year. Even without stealing a bag, their hustle on the bases earned them multiple extra runs, and they added several highlight-reel running catches in the outfield.
As you might expect, it all started and ended with Ramon Laureano. He singled in his first at-bat and then moved to third base on another single, but the Orioles fielders got a bit too casual and bobbled the ball on its way back to the infield. Laureano saw the sliver of opportunity and sprinted toward it, racing home and beating the throw for the first run of the day. He effectively scored from first on a single.
The misplay and the subsequent confusion caused by Laureano also allowed Matt Olson to move around to third base after his single, and Olson then scored on another hit by Jed Lowrie. That’s a two-run rally to begin the day, at least partly due to sheer heads-up effort.
Both teams kept the pressure on from there. Baltimore tied it, then Olson homered to retake the lead, then the Orioles tied it again. In the 7th, they each traded a run due to some shaky infield defense. For the A’s it was a bad feed by shortstop Elvis Andrus on what would have been at least a forceout at second or possibly even a double play, and either way the extended inning resulted in an unearned run.
Oakland got it right back in the bottom of the frame. Sean Murphy led off with a walk, and he tried to move to third on a single by Matt Chapman, but the decision turned out to be over-ambitious as he was thrown out. That didn’t deter the A’s from continuing to push hard on the bases, though.
Chapman advanced to second on the play, and the next batter hit a grounder to the left side that required the third baseman to range to his left and spin a full 360 to get in position to throw. As Chapman motored past the unfolding play, which also included the fielder double-clutching to get the ball out of his glove, he saw his chance. He never even slowed down on his way around third, simply rounding it and continuing home. The first baseman recognized what was happening but it was too late, and upon receiving the ball he also couldn’t get it out of his glove and didn’t even deliver a throw.
️"CHAPMAN'S GOING TO SCORE THE TYING RUN!" pic.twitter.com/f5gb48MRWx— Oakland A's (@Athletics) May 2, 2021
Like with Laureano in the 1st inning, this wasn’t just an unearned run from an unforced error by the opponent. The A’s created these chances almost out of thin air, identifying the tiniest imperfections and pouncing on them at full speed. We’ve seen it go wrong once or twice, but it’s gone right far more often and it’s adding a dimension we’ve yearned for after years of station-to-station Three True Outcomes lineups.
The hustle wasn’t limited to the bases, either, as Oakland did work on outfield defense as well. In the 5th, amid an Orioles rally that had already yielded two runs, Mark Canha made a sliding catch on a sinking liner to end the frame. In the 9th he did it again, this time with two on and one out as the bullpen was trying to seal the save.
But the biggest highlight grab was by Laureano. In the 8th inning, with the score tied, a runner on second, and two out, D.J. Stewart launched a deep fly to center. Laureano darted toward the wall, timed a perfect leap, and hauled in what would otherwise have been a go-ahead double.
Reminder that Ramón is a Gold Glove caliber outfielder. pic.twitter.com/9bGTRoMkTz— Oakland A's (@Athletics) May 2, 2021
“It’s pretty simple. Just catch it.” — Laureano explaining how to be amazing, via NBC Sports.
But wait, he wasn’t done. With two outs in the 9th, Canha plopped a single into shallow right to get himself on base, and then Ramon completed his hero’s journey by unleashing an opposite-field dinger to give his team a 7-5 lead.
Aggressive on the bases for the first run of the day. A highlight catch in center to hold a late tie. And the go-ahead homer at the end to win it. Welcome to the Laser Show.
Olson shines in return
The A’s best hitter so far this year has been Matt Olson, so it was a bummer when the first baseman missed three games after a batting cage accident left his eye swollen shut. But the slugger returned to the lineup Sunday, complete with an impressive shiner, and picked up right where he’d left off.
His first at-bat produced a groundball single through the shift and Ramon’s mad dash home. His next time up he took his more traditional route, with a 106.5 mph blast that traveled 418 feet and over the CF wall.
“Trevor Bauer has to love Matt Olson. He’s playing with one eye.” — Chris Bassitt, guest-starring on the NBC Sports broadcast.
His next time up he hit it just as hard (106.2 mph) but more on a line, settling for a one-hopper over the wall and an automatic double. He was finally retired twice after that, but a box score with Olson back in the heart of the order going 3-for-5 with seven total bases and a pair of RBI is the very definition of a sight for sore eyes.
New Oakland record!
In addition to their hustle, the lineup made some history today with another kind of selfless effort. Canha was hit by a pitch in the 2nd inning, marking his seventh HBP of the season. More importantly, it was the 60th of his career, all in an A’s uniform, and that total passes Sal Bando for tops in Oakland history since the club moved here in 1968.
Tied for fourth on the list? Rickey Henderson, with 55.
If you expand to franchise history, then Bando goes up to 62 since he debuted back in Kansas City, and he’s tied there with Reggie Jackson (who had 57 in Oakland, and 5 in KC). The all-time A’s leader is Jimmy Dykes with 93 for the old Philadelphia squad.
Speaking of franchise history, and also of outfield defense earlier, right fielder Stephen Piscotty tied it all together with this achievement.
A's right fielder Stephen Piscotty didn't commit an error for his franchise-record 210th straight game. That broke the previous mark by Ryan Sweeney from Aug. 17, 2009 to Sept. 14, 2011.— Janie McCauley (@JanieMcCAP) May 2, 2021
Pitching does just enough
Oakland ended up needing every bit of offense they squeezed out today, because the Orioles weren’t going down without a fight. Starter Sean Manaea held them down as best he could, and avoided offering any extra help with no walks or HBPs, but they made enough solid contact to keep him in trouble most of the day and peck at him for some runs.
In the 2nd it was a double followed by a two-out single. In the 3rd it was a solo homer by Austin Hays, the fourth time he’s gone deep against the A’s this year. And in the 5th, they turned three singles and a wild pitch into another pair of runs.
- Manaea: 5 ip, 4 runs, 5 Ks, 0 BB, 1 HR, 7 hits, 91 pitches, 89.1 mph EV
It wasn’t the best result we’ve seen from the southpaw this year, and he really did earn his runs. But he also earned not allowing more, by missing some bats and forcing the opponent to scratch out everything on their own with no free passes.
The bullpen took over from there, beginning with a scoreless frame by Jordan Weems in the 6th, fresh off a promotion from the alternate site. Jake Diekman did enough to earn a scoreless 7th but took the unearned run thanks in part to Andrus’ miscue. Yusmeiro Petit made it through the 8th, with a tip of the cap to Laureano’s catch. And Lou Trivino locked down the 9th despite letting on a pair of runners. They each gave up some hard contact, but got the job done in the end.
Just keep running
For three years, we’ve watched the A’s flex plenty of contender-level talent but struggle to make the extra plays that win postseason games and series. We’re beginning to see that final step in 2021, and today was a perfect example.
That’s the biggest takeaway from this early season so far. Slumps and hot streaks come and go, as do injuries and recoveries and replacements, and it’ll be a while before we know which of the April story lines end up being real and which are mirages. But the level of wise aggressiveness and outright hustle is looking more and more like a permanent and sustainable new brand of Oakland baseball, playing out on a field named after the best to ever run the bases.