In a game full of All-Star sluggers on both sides, it was Tony Kemp who hit the go-ahead homer at the Coliseum on Sunday.
Kemp’s long ball in the 8th inning put the Oakland A’s on top in a 3-1 victory over the New York Yankees, salvaging a split for Oakland in the finale of their four-game series together.
Several times over the past couple weeks, we’ve seen the A’s serve up a two-run homer in the late innings of a close game, but today it was Oakland coming up with the clutch dinger.
With the score tied 1-1 in the bottom of the 8th, and two outs on the board, Mark Canha ripped a double for the first extra-base hit of the day by either club. Up next was Kemp, and he jumped all over a first-pitch fastball down the middle and lined it into the right field corner. The ball only had an estimated distance of 348 feet, but that was enough to sneak over the wall just above the 330 mark.
The A’s pitching staff also had a big day. They limited a powerful Yankees lineup to just one run, and even that was unearned and required errors by two excellent Oakland defenders. Leading the way was Paul Blackburn, making just his third start in the majors this season and delivering five shutout innings. Four different relievers combined to take it the rest of the way, with Andrew Chafin sealing the 9th on nine pitches to earn his second save of the year.
Both teams had their share of chances with runners on base, but through the first seven innings they only had one unearned run apiece, each thanks to uncharacteristic errors by excellent defensive third basemen.
The A’s got their run in the 4th. With two on and one out, they hit a grounder toward New York third baseman Gio Urshela that could have been an inning-ending double play, but he booted it to load the bases. Next up was Canha, who grounded into what was initially ruled a 6-4-3 double play, but on replay review the call was overturned — he’d beaten the throw to first, and the runner from third scored on the play.
The A’s actually won a replay review pic.twitter.com/mdUBEW4aGc— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) August 30, 2021
Oakland rallied again in the 5th with two more baserunners, but this time Urshela helped stop it with a nice leaping catch. In the 7th he made another error, helping the A’s load the bases, but they weren’t able to cash in again.
For a while, it looked like that one run amazingly might be enough. The Yankees have one of the hottest and most stacked lineups in the majors, but they couldn’t find the plate at all against Blackburn. He put at least one runner on base in every inning, but each time he navigated his way through it, including double plays in the 1st and 4th and a caught stealing in the 3rd by catcher Yan Gomes.
- Blackburn: 5 ip, 0 runs, 1 K, 1 BB, 1 HBP, 5 hits, 74 pitches, 89.0 mph EV
Perhaps his key stat was a 75% groundball rate, with 12 of his 16 batted balls staying on the ground. Not only did that help Blackburn keep the mighty Yankees in the park on a day when he only struck out one batter, it also resulted in a pair of double plays when runners did get on base.
The right-hander joined the rotation earlier this month as an injury replacement, and he’s stepping up in a big way, keeping the team in the game all three times he’s pitched. Last time out, against the Mariners, he tossed five scoreless before giving up a homer in the 6th, and today he backed that up with five more zeroes and then a perfectly timed hook after two turns through New York’s lineup.
Paul Blackburn got a little choked up talking about his up and down last few years: “It’s a lot of fun. I played with a lot of the guys here before. The trust teammates have in me, the last couple years were a struggle. Just coming up here and being able to help out is amazing.”— Martín Gallegos (@MartinJGallegos) August 30, 2021
Unfortunately, the lead was later lost, in the weirdest way.
After Yusmeiro Petit made it through the 6th, Jake Diekman came in for the 7th and did a better job than the box score will ever give him credit for. Against his first batter he delivered a perfect 3-2 pitch on the bottom edge of the zone but didn’t get the call, for a leadoff walk. He struck out the next two batters, with an escape job clearly in sight, but at the last minute Oakland’s defense slipped.
First it was a wild pitch by Diekman himself to advance the runner to second. Then came an error by Gomes, who had a chance to catch a foul popup but clanked it. Given another opportunity, the batter hit a grounder toward third baseman Matt Chapman, but a funky hop ate up the Platinum Glover and it scooted between his legs. The runner scored from second, and the game was tied.
Borderline walk, wild pitch, missed popup, and then error by the best defender in the majors. In a summer full of heartbreak in close games, that was as frustrating of a sequence as any, especially because it erased the A’s own good fortune after scoring themselves on a single, single, error on a GIDP ball, and then a GIDP overturned on replay.
At the end of the 7th, the score was tied. Who would come up clutch in the late innings to grab the win? Deolis Guerra kept New York quiet in the top of the 8th, in a rare high-leverage appearance for the right-hander, and then in the bottom half Kemp punched his ticket to Poundtown.
Tonight’s starting lineups featured 13 players who have All-Star appearances in their careers, six for the Yankees and seven for the A’s. They featured 11 hitters with double-digit homers this year, and a few more who have shown double-digit power in the past. But the game winner-came from somebody off the bench, who’s known more for his OBP than his slugging.
Kemp has crushed the Yankees this season. Back in June he homered twice against them, including the go-ahead three-run blast in an Oakland victory. Then this weekend he continued making an impact at the plate.
On Friday he led off and went 2-for-3. On Saturday he created most of the offense in a 3-1 A’s win, poking an RBI single for the first run and then inducing a balk to send home the second run, and later that day he doubled but was stranded. On Sunday he came off the bench to lead off the 7th inning with a pinch-hit single, and then he came up again in the 8th and homered.
Add it up and he went 6-for-8 in the series. He’s hit five homers this year, and three of them have come against the Yankees including two game-winners in the 6th inning or later.
Overall for the season Kemp went 8-for-16 with a .500/.556/1.125 line against New York, including seven RBI, two walks, and no strikeouts. Per Stats By STATS on Twitter, “No other player in history has had a 1.100+ slugging percentage with zero strikeouts against the Yankees in a season with at least as many at-bats.”
Tony Kemp said he had a long conversation with Matt Chapman on the phone last night. The main takeaway: "Keep it simple, stupid." Also aid his brother told him about how good his numbers were in 0-0 counts. His homer in the eighth came on the first pitch he saw from Green.— Martín Gallegos (@MartinJGallegos) August 30, 2021
There was also some cosmic solace to be found in Kemp’s homer. One week ago, the A’s lost a game to the Giants when non-slugging infielder Donovan Solano came off the bench in the 8th to hit a two-run homer barely over the wall in the LF corner. Today the tables turned, and Oakland had the non-slugging infielder off the bench who came up in the 8th and hit a two-run homer barely over the wall into the other corner of the Coliseum.
Ride the wave!
The A’s beat the Yankees thanks to Paul Blackburn spinning zeroes, spoiled by a Matt Chapman error, then redeemed by a Tony Kemp homer. Just like we all drew it up. But after a couple weeks of head-scratching losses, and a couple months of struggles in close games, a head-scratching win in a close game is more than welcome.
It’s been a tough August for the A’s, but today was another step in a better direction. They used a full-squad effort to notch an exciting win against a top opponent on national TV. Ride the wave!