When the opponent offers you free help, take advantage of it.
That’s what the Oakland A’s did on Thursday, capitalizing on some mistakes by the Kansas City Royals to grab a 7-2 victory at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals committed a fielding error, pegged three batters, and uncorked four wild pitches, and the A’s lineup cashed in on the opportunities.
There were two key innings for Oakland. In the 3rd they rallied for four runs, and most of it was made possible by an odd mental mistake by Kansas City. The game stayed close for the rest of the day, until the 9th when they scored three more using just one hit — one of the runs was a complete gift, on a HBP followed by three wild pitches.
On the other side of the ball, the A’s pitching staff held a lead for the second straight day. The Royals homered in the 1st inning but then never scored again, going hitless with runners in scoring position.
Kansas City struck first for an early 2-0 lead, but things got weird in the 3rd.
The inning began with a pair of free passes, first a walk and then a HBP. Josh Harrison grounded a single through the hole to score one of them, and Oakland was on the board.
The next batter, Starling Marte, hit a grounder to second baseman Whit Merrifield. Normally it would have been a double play ball, but due to a defensive shift the shortstop was too far toward third base to cover second in time. But Merrifield didn’t notice that and threw to second anyway, and everybody was safe.
Next up was Matt Olson, with the bases loaded. While Olson was batting, the Royals starter hurt himself and had to exit mid at-bat. A reliever came in with a 3-2 count, and on the first pitch Olson lined a rocket to the right side. However, it went directly at Merrifield, who flipped to first in time to double off Marte.
At that point, Merrifield’s first mistake had been erased. On Marte’s grounder he should have gotten the easy out at first, but now Marte was eliminated anyway.
Then Merrifield made another whoopsie. Jed Lowrie hit a grounder down the line but first baseman Ryan O’Hearn couldn’t handle it, and it caromed over to Merrifield. He collected the ball and appeared to have plenty of time to throw to first and get Lowrie to end the inning, but for some reason he just didn’t, and instead whirled and threw to third. Everybody was safe again, plus a run scored, and the inning continued.
An error was charged to O’Hearn for initially clanking the grounder, but this still could have been the third out if Merrifield had finished off the play. Instead it was an unearned run.
The game was now tied, with the bases loaded, and the A’s didn’t miss the chance to keep cashing in. Chad Pinder ripped a 106.8 mph single to left to drive home two runs and take the lead.
It could have been just a one-run inning, but Merrifield’s mistakes and Pinder’s single turned it into four. There were only two hits in the inning.
Meanwhile, Oakland starter Paul Blackburn settled down after some early fireworks. In the 1st inning he issued a walk and then served up a towering two-run homer to Salvador Perez, his 45th of the year to tie the MLB single-season record for dingers by a catcher (alongside Johnny Bench). But Blackburn went on to retire nine straight batters, then stranded a double in the 4th, and erased a single in the 5th by inducing a double play.
Blackburn: 5 ip, 2 runs, 3 Ks, 2 BB, 1 HR, 6 hits, 79 pitches, 89.5 mph EV
He came back out for the 6th inning but put the first two runners on base, and it was time for the bullpen to take over.
The A’s relievers have blown a ton of leads lately, and last night they almost lost another one, but today they held firm. First up was Deolis Guerra, who entered in the 6th and stranded Blackburn’s runners, then tossed a scoreless 7th. Guerra continues to be an unsung hero in the pen.
In the 8th, Andrew Chafin flirted with danger. A double into the RF corner put runners at second and third with one out, but he struck out the next two batters to escape it. It was the third straight inning that the Royals left multiple runners on base.
Oakland led 4-2 after eight innings, but there was still one more frame to go.
Between the bullpen’s recent unreliability, and the scare in the 8th inning, this was the time for some insurance runs. Kansas City obliged by simply handing some over.
Leading off the inning, Elvis Andrus was pegged by a pitch. A wild pitch moved him up to second. Another wild pitch moved him up to third. Then another wild pitch allowed him to score. He was handed four free bases on four separate plays, and the A’s got a bonus run.
During that wild sequence, Tony Kemp drew a walk and moved to second. When the pitcher finally found the zone, Harrison launched a double to the wall to drive in Kemp. That was Harrison’s fourth hit of the day.
A new pitcher came in, and he threw a wild pitch too, moving Harrison up to third. That extra 90 feet later allowed him to score on an RBI groundout by Mark Canha.
Harrison’s double was the only hit in the inning, but Oakland ended up with three runs thanks to all the wildness. Perhaps partly to blame were the shadows that had crept over home plate as the afternoon progressed, but either way the “rally” was exactly what the A’s needed to extend their lead and put the game away.
Instead of protecting a slim two-run margin in the bottom of the 9th, Sergio Romo now had a five-run cushion. He retired the side in order. Game over, with no collapse at the end.
Job well done
When life gives you RISP, drive them in. The A’s took advantage of everything the Royals handed to them, notching three clutch hits with a bunch of free runners in scoring position, and the result was a win over a sub-.500 opponent.