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Game #113: A’s keep battling, earn comeback 10-inning win

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Bullpen steps up with historic performance

Oakland Athletics v Cleveland Indians Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images

In June and July, the Oakland A’s often found themselves falling one play short of turning a loss into a win. They’re not having that problem so far in August.

The A’s fell behind early on Tuesday and got only five outs from their starting pitcher, but they battled back to tie it up in the 8th and then pushed across the go-ahead run in the 10th. There are a thousand ways they could have lost this game, but instead they did just enough to beat the Cleveland Indians 4-3 at Progressive Field and earn their fifth straight victory.

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

By the end of two innings, it appeared this might not be the A’s night. Starter Sean Manaea labored from the get-go, needing 35 pitches just to get through the 1st inning, including a rare walk and a sharp RBI single to put Cleveland on the board. The 2nd was more of the same, full of extremely long at-bats and enough hits to score two more runs. Manaea was pulled with two outs on the board, after throwing another 34 pitches in the frame.

  • Manaea: 1⅔ ip, 3 runs, 2 Ks, 3 BB, 5 hits, 69 pitches, 89.5 mph EV

The lefty wasn’t fooling anybody tonight, as Cleveland consistently worked deep counts and made solid contact. In his previous six starts combined he’d totaled five walks to the 142 batters he faced, but in this game he issued three walks out of a dozen batters. On top of that shaky control, his velocity was down a slight tick from his season average.

When reliever Burch Smith entered and recorded the final out of the 2nd inning, Oakland found themselves trailing 3-1 with their bullpen already in the game. And then yadda yadda yadda, they won.

Bullpen game

The comeback began and ended with the A’s bullpen, which set some franchise history along the way.

Smith hasn’t let an inherited runner score all year, and in that 2nd inning he stranded two more that had been bequeathed to him by Manaea. Then Smith went on to chew through three more frames with near perfection, retiring 10 of the 11 batters he faced and allowing just a groundball single.

  • Smith: 3⅓ ip, 0 runs, 2 Ks, 0 BB, 1 hit, 40 pitches, 88.7 mph EV

This was reminiscent of the dominant Smith we saw last summer during his brief breakout campaign. It was also encouraging to see just hours after Oakland let go of another quality reliever, J.B. Wendelken, in order to keep Smith in the majors. Smith has been inconsistent this year, yielding a 4.99 ERA (now 4.50), and Wendelken himself has a history of successful emergency long relief, but Smith got the vote of confidence and it couldn’t have gone better than what he offered tonight. His clutch performance was as responsible as anything for the eventual victory.

Meanwhile, the reason why one of Wendelken or Smith needed to be cut from the roster at all was to make room for top prospect A.J. Puk to come up from the minors. After Smith was done cruising through the end of the 5th inning, Puk entered for the 6th and needed only 11 pitches to breeze through three batters. The lefty operated at 96-98 mph as advertised with his new lower arm slot, and earned a pair of strikeouts.

From there it was the usual suspects. Yusmeiro Petit took the 7th, Sergio Romo the 8th, Lou Trivino the 9th, and Andrew Chafin the 10th. None of them allowed a hit, though a few walks did reach base. Their teammates also supported them with some great defense, which we’ll get to later in the recap, but the important thing for now is the zeroes they put up in the box score.

That’s a franchise record for a 121-year-old ballclub. Never before has the bullpen put in a performance quite like tonight, with this size of workload and this level of complete silence from the opposition. Simply brilliant, and fortunately they didn’t let it go to waste.

Clutch hitting

The A’s trailed for most of the game, but they always kept it close.

After Manaea allowed a run in the 1st inning, Oakland matched it in the top of the 2nd. Josh Harrison hit a double off the LF wall, and Sean Murphy hit a double to the CF wall to drive him home.

Cleveland re-took the lead with two more runs in the bottom of the 2nd, and Seth Brown answered back in the 4th with a solo homer.

That was Brown’s 14th dinger of the season, and with it he passed Matt Olson for the highest homer rate on the team — he’s now gone deep every 15.7 plate appearances, compared with 16.2 for Olson.

The A’s needed just one more run to tie it up, and they finally got it in the 8th inning. Starling Marte continued his recent sparkplug antics, hitting a single and then stealing second base to put himself in scoring position. Olson followed with another single, but Marte had to hold up at third — he would have been out at the plate, and he was darn near thrown out scampering back to third, though the ensuing chaos conveniently allowed Olson to sneak his way to second base.

That brought up RISP master Jed Lowrie, with one out and runners on second and third. All he needed to do was make contact and the game would be tied, and the Professional Hitter got his job done.

This run was almost purely created by Marte’s hustle. If he doesn’t steal then the inning probably just ends up as a couple harmless singles. Even if he’d gone first-to-third on Olson’s hit, Olson would never have had the chance to advance to second, so Lowrie’s grounder would have been an inning-ending double play. Or even with the steal, if Marte hadn’t drawn a throw home and also a follow-up throw to third, then once again Olson holds at first and Lowrie hits a GIDP.

In the 9th, Oakland tried to repeat that small-ball success. Having already done his best Olson impression earlier with a towering homer, Brown now did his best Marte impression by singling and stealing second to will himself into scoring position. He ended up stranded, but not for lack of effort on his part as he showed off his wide-ranging skill set. (He also walked in the 7th.)

With the score still knotted, the game went to extra innings and an automatic runner was placed on second base. Cleveland retired the A’s first two batters, but then walked Olson on three pitches — that is, he worked a 3-0 count and they signaled an intentional Ball 4 rather than challenging him. That brought up Lowrie, and once again he came through.

Lowrie drove in the tying run in the 8th, and the go-ahead run in the 10th. He’s now batting .370 with runners in scoring position, fourth-best among all qualified MLB hitters.

It wasn’t the lineup’s best overall game at the plate but it was just enough, and it also represented a blend of the old slump wearing off and the trade acquisitions making an impact. Marte has added a new dimension with his speed and on-base ability, and that helped create a crucial run at a key moment. But at the end of the day, the final thing they needed was just to hit the ball a couple times in clutch situations, and Lowrie did so twice just like he’s done most of the summer.

Defense wins games

While the A’s pitching and hitting were both memorable, their defense tonight mustn’t be overlooked.

In the 2nd inning, they turned a rare 6-4-5 double play. It wasn’t entirely a great play, as it first required a bobble by Elvis Andrus to set it up, but from there it was all quick reflexes and even quicker thinking. After his initial clank, Andrus recovered and flipped to second for the forceout, and the hesitation of the lead runner gave Harrison time to throw him out at third.

This was a bit of good defense, a bit of luck, and maybe a dash of questionable baserunning, but it sure looked pretty and ended well for the green-and-gold.

In the 8th they turned another cool double play, and this one was extra clutch. With the game tied, Romo walked a pair of batters and then served up a sharp line drive. But the liner went straight at Andrus, who immediately threw to second just in time to double the runner off and end the inning. It could have been the game-winning hit, and instead the rally was suddenly over.

That’s Tony Kemp on the reception at second base. He took over after Harrison was hit by a pitch in the finger, though fortunately Harrison’s X-rays were negative.

Kemp chipped in once more in the 9th. If this grounder gets through then it’s a walk-off single, but he made a diving stop and an off-balance feed to first for the game-saving out.

In the 10th, it was Matt Chapman’s turn to shine. With the automatic runner on second base, the leadoff batter ripped a 108 mph liner toward left field. By all rights it should have been a game-tying hit, but Chapman leaped and speared it to rob Cleveland. The next batter hit a 104 mph grounder up the line, but he was there to devour that too and deliver his customary cannon throw to first base. Platinum!

In June and July, the A’s often found themselves falling one play short of turning a loss into a win. They’re not having that problem so far in August, and that can show up on the defensive side just as easily as on offense.

One-run win

From mid-June through the end of July, Oakland went 3-12 in one-run games. They’ve now won their first two such close contests in August. This Too Shall Pass is beginning to turn into That Did Indeed Pass, and the A’s are heating up right as the stretch drive of the pennant race approaches.