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Game #91: A’s live on the edge but win in 11 innings

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Finally coming through in the clutch! Eventually!

Oakland Athletics v Texas Rangers Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Depending on your perspective, you could look at Saturday’s game as another frustrating example of the Oakland A’s missing several opportunities to put a game away, or you could be encouraged by the fact that they finally came through in the end no matter how long it took.

Either way, the A’s did in fact earn a victory, 8-4 over the Texas Rangers in 11 innings. That’s a welcome sight amid their current slump, as they held tight during a close game and then built an extra-large lead in extras to avoid any final drama.

*** Click here to revisit today’s Game Thread! ***

The afternoon began with a pitching matchup of James Kaprielian for Oakland and Mike Foltynewicz for Texas. They’d faced off twice already this year and both times Folty came out barely on top, but today Kap got the better end of things.

In the bottom of the 1st inning, Kaprielian served up back-to-back solo homers. In the top of the 2nd, Foltynewicz did exactly the same thing, as Sean Murphy and Seth Brown took him deep. Murphy Brown! The pair of solo dingers tied the score, in uncannily identical fashion.

Brown’s homer went 472 feet, by far the longest by any A’s hitter this season. Since Statcast began in 2015, Oakland has only hit three dingers farther, most recently three years ago. (Ryon Healy 480 in 2016; Chad Pinder 475 in 2017; Matt Olson 475 in 2018.)

It was also the longest homer hit yet by anybody at Globe Life Field, which opened up last season.

Both pitchers settled down after that, mostly. Kap got himself into a couple jams but worked his way out, while Folty blinked one more time. In the 4th, Jed Lowrie homered to put the A’s ahead 3-2.

It wasn’t Kaprielian’s best game, but he made it through five innings and departed with the lead. And he finally beat Folty, though the afternoon was long from decided and neither pitcher received a decision in the box score.

  • Kaprielian: 5 ip, 2 runs, 4 Ks, 4 BB, 4 hits, 2 HR, 87 pitches, 87.5 mph EV

The short outing by Kap meant the bullpen would need to go four frames, and they only had a one-run cushion to work with. To make it tougher, Oakland’s lineup couldn’t provide any insurance, stranding a leadoff double in the 7th and then squandering a two-on, no-out chance in the 8th.

The A’s pen made it through the 6th with Deolis Guerra, and the 7th with Yusmeiro Petit, but in the 8th Jake Diekman walked a pair and allowed an RBI hit to tie it up. Blown save.

Oakland turned to All-Star-Snub Lou Trivino to bail Diekman out of his jam, and Trivino retired five of his six batters to take it through the end of the 9th.

Perhaps the A’s should have won the game by this point. They’d gone 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position, including twice stranding a leadoff double, and if they’d scratched out just one more run it could have made the difference. If they’d lost, those missed opportunities would have been the story, again.

Extra innings

Or maybe the story would have been the weird top of the 10th. Oakland started with their automatic free runner on second base, and then the Rangers spotted them another runner with an error. With runners on the corners, Skye Bolt ... sac bunted? Not quite sure why, unless it was a squeeze attempt, but that would also have been a bad idea since the runner at third was the slow catcher Murphy. One out wasted.

Next, the A’s called on a pinch-hitter: new callup Jacob Wilson, for his MLB debut and the first at-bat of his career. Welcome to the Show, dude! He popped out on the first pitch. While I’m interested to see Wilson play, and the platoon matchup made sense, I might have preferred to see him get his debut out of the way in some other situation — like anytime in the previous two games, or tomorrow, or not the ultra-high-leverage 10th inning. He later committed a critical fielding error in the bottom of the frame.

After missing out on their first two chances to drive a runner home from third base, Oakland finally got it done on their third try. Ramon Laureano pulled a grounder just far enough into the hole that the Rangers’ Gold Glove shortstop couldn’t make a play on it, and Murphy scored to take the lead.

But the theme of the last few weeks has been one too many things going wrong and one too few going right, and it happened again in the bottom of the 10th. A productive flyout and an intentional walk put runners on the corners, and the next batter hit a grounder toward Wilson at second base. It could have been a game-ending double play, but he booted it and everybody was safe, including the lead runner at home.

The score was tied again, and the pen had blown its second save of the game, though it’s nearly impossible to fault J.B. Wendelken for this one. Tough day for Wilson, as the first fielding chance of his MLB career came with the game on the line in the 10th.

Fortunately, both Wendelken and Wilson came through one pitch later, as the pitcher induced another grounder and this time Wilson helped turn a clean 6-4-3 double play.

The A’s got another chance in the 11th, and this time they finally took full advantage, in all the ways we’ve wanted to see lately but haven’t. With runners on the corners and one out, Lowrie singled. A clutch RBI hit with a runner in scoring position!

Good hustle on the bases took Matt Olson from first to third on Lowrie’s single, and then a wild pitch scored him. Capitalizing on an opponent’s mistake instead of letting it go to waste!

And then to cap it off, Stephen Piscotty went second-deck to extend the lead even further. Insurance runs!

That’s Piscotty’s first homer in nearly two months, and it gave Oakland the kind of comfortable lead we’ve been waiting three weeks to see. It took until the 11th, but it was finally here.

A two-run margin in extras means the opponent starts with the tying run at the plate. A four-run lead overcomes that level of suspense, and Wendelken nailed it down this time to complete the victory. Exhale.

Progress!

It won’t go down as a close game in the final box score because of the late outburst, but it effectively was one. A lot of these coin-flips have not gone Oakland’s way lately, but today they got the job done. Honestly this wasn’t even one of the better games they’ve played on this road trip, but that’s the way it goes with tight extra-inning contests, and today their “good enough” turned out to be “just enough” instead of “not quite enough.”

Four homers by the lineup, and only three earned runs allowed by the pitching staff in 11 innings? Sounds like another solid performance, and finally it added up to a win.