The Oakland A’s ended the month of May in a slump at the plate, but they emphatically put that behind them on the first day of June, led by the No. 9 hitter in their lineup.
The A’s exploded for a dozen runs against the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday, snapping their three-game losing streak with a 12-6 victory at T-Mobile Park. That’s more than they’d scored in their previous four contests combined, and along the way they homered twice after five days without going deep.
From Friday through Monday the A’s totaled just 10 runs, and for the first few innings this evening it was looking like more of the same. Oakland struck first but Seattle answered back harder, taking a 4-1 lead in the 4th and knocking out ace starter Chris Bassitt for his shortest outing of the year.
- Bassitt: 4 ip, 4 runs, 6 Ks, 1 BB, 1 HR, 6 hits, 83 pitches, 90.6 mph EV
The right-hander wasn’t bad, fanning nearly one-third of his 19 batters and allowing only three pieces of hard contact. But the Mariners strung most of it together for a rally in the 3rd and then homered in the 4th, and even when they got out they worked long at-bats to drive up the pitch count, that all of that was enough to chase Bassitt on a night when the A’s had an extra trick up their sleeve in the bullpen.
Perhaps the Hound might have gotten more leash, but Oakland just got starter Jesús Luzardo back from the injured list and this was the perfect time to deploy him as a long reliever. The lefty answered the call in vintage form, striking out half the batters he faced and allowing just one hard-hit grounder.
- Luzardo: 3 ip, 0 runs, 6 Ks, 1 BB, 2 hits, 46 pitches
The performance was reminiscent of a few other signature outings on the 23-year-old’s resume. His MLB debut featured three quality innings out of the bullpen, and he dominated for three scoreless as a reliever in the 2019 Wild Card Game and then again in his first appearance in 2020 before he quickly joined the rotation. He upped the bar even further this time, as the last A’s reliever to fan six batters in three innings or fewer was Chad Bradford in 2001, per scorer David Feldman.
But there was still a problem. No matter what their pitchers did, Oakland’s lineup needed to bust out of its slump and start scoring.
There was an encouraging sign in the 2nd inning, as Matt Olson finally ended the club’s homerless drought. Despite a lefty/lefty matchup, he unloaded for his team-leading 14th of the year, putting them on the board for an early lead. The last time they went five games without a dinger was 2016.
However, they didn’t find the plate again until the 5th, and by then the Mariners had already pulled ahead. When Luzardo finished his second inning of work, the A’s were trailing 4-2 and had managed only five baserunners in six frames including Olson’s dinger.
Oakland finally broke out in the 7th, led by none other than Tony Kemp, batting in the No. 9 spot in the order. He’s quietly having an excellent year as a role player, but it’s mostly been based on drawing lots of walks to get on base and playing versatile defense. Tonight his team needed something different from him, so he shifted to the role of run producer.
Kemp’s charge actually began in the 5th, when he stung an RBI double into the right-center gap. In the 7th he got another chance when the A’s put runners on second and third with one out, and he came through again with a sac fly. The lead was chipping away, down to just 4-3.
Then Oakland just kept chipping and never stopped. With two outs on the board, Mark Canha hit just enough of a grounder to avoid the shortstop’s glove and bring the tying run home from third and extend the rally.
A pair of walks loaded the bases, and they only needed one more hit to push them over the top and take the lead. Olson obliged, pulling a liner into the teeth of a defensive shift and somehow finding the tiny patch of grass between the two right fielders.
Oly Toledo... the A's have the lead pic.twitter.com/gZUX0eO3nz— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) June 2, 2021
How about some insurance? Sean Murphy opted yes, grounding a double down the line for two more runs.
Suddenly the script had flipped entirely. Instead of the slumping A’s facing a 4-2 deficit, they were now leading 8-4, and with a hot Luzardo on the mound.
This rally was brought to you by Kemp making simple contact that the situation required, and then a whole bunch of When BABIP Goes Right. The hits by Canha, Olson, and Murphy were more about perfect placement than hard contact, and the highest exit velocity of the inning was the groundout by Matt Chapman that ended it.
But wait! The A’s weren’t done. Or more accurately, Kemp wasn’t done. He got another at-bat with a runner in scoring position in the 8th inning and blasted a homer, his second of the season. With a swing and pose like this, just call him Kemp Griffey.
Tony Kemp been eatin his spinach pic.twitter.com/MaVsIoTGCM— The Rickey Henderson of Blogs (@RickeyBlog) June 2, 2021
That’s a legit jack, at 100.2 mph off the bat and 380 feet in distance. It was also the third time he’d come to the plate and driven in a run tonight, all of them at the platoon disadvantage against lefty pitchers. He did it again in the 9th, against a righty now, batting with the bases loaded and poking a grounder into the SS-3B hole for an RBI infield single.
- Kemp: 3-for-4, HR, double, 5 RBI, sac fly, 93.5 mph average EV
It’s the second time in his career that Kemp has driven in five runs in a game. He was on the Astros for the first occasion, which is a bummer, but on the bright side he did it against the Giants. He’s now got a 134 wRC+ for the season.
While Kemp did the heavy lifting, the full explosion was exactly the team effort we’ve been hoping to see. They haven’t been getting on base enough, but they did so 20 times tonight, between 13 hits, six walks, and a HBP. Once there, they went 6-for-13 with runners in scoring position, or 7-for-14 if you count sac flies, which you really should. And of course, the dingers returned.
A couple other performances worth mentioning: Elvis Andrus reached base three times, including setting up Kemp’s first two RBI opportunities. And Stephen Piscotty cracked three hits, drove in a run, and scored a pair. The 7-8-9 spots in Oakland’s lineup (Piscotty, Andrus, Kemp) combined to go 7-for-12 with two walks, six RBI, and five runs scored.
Amid all the happy thoughts, there is one small potential gripe from this game. With a six-run lead in the 8th, the A’s called on co-closer Jake Diekman to pitch.
Maybe this was a moment to lock down a much-needed win at all costs, or maybe it was a time to avoid using the setup crew if possible. The recent losses have been close so the top relievers have still been pitching, and Diekman himself had worked the previous day, so there was no need to search for extra work for him. The lead was already four when he began warming up.
It was only 10 days ago that we saw mopup man Reymin Guduan thrust unsuccessfully into a save situation because nobody else was available, and that happened specifically due to the premium arms (including Diekman) being burned in non-save situations and needing a rest. If you hope to win 90+ games, then the closer can’t finish all of them, even if you have two co-closers.
Melvin moves up history books
But let’s leave that armchair managing aside for tonight, because there’s a bigger story regarding skipper Bob Melvin. This was his 799th win with the team since taking the helm midway through 2011, passing Tony La Russa for the most in Oakland history. Melvin now ranks second in franchise history behind Connie Mack, who won eleventy million games over a half-century with the Philadelphia Athletics.
- Connie Mack, 3,582 wins
- Bob Melvin, 799
- Tony La Russa, 798
- Art Howe, 600
- Ken Macha, 368
Mack’s record is one of the most unbreakable in pro sports, just in terms of chronological logistics, so it’s not a realistic bar to aim for. But the Oakland record sure is something, especially since Melvin passed a Hall of Famer to get there. Congrats to BoMel!
Stay the course
The MLB season is a marathon, and it’s always full of ups and downs over the span of six months. The A’s lineup still has questions to answer and long-term issues to address, but their latest stumble only lasted a few days and now they’re back on track. It’ll happen again and they’ll bounce back again, as they ride a wave that rises and falls, and the important thing is to not read too much into any individual day or week because that’s not how any of this works. Until October, that is.