In a month full of blown saves, the Oakland A’s finally won a close game on Friday.
The A’s took a one-run lead in the 6th inning and held on to beat the Los Angeles Angels 5-4 in Anaheim.
This is exactly the game that Oakland hasn’t been winning lately. It stayed close throughout, partly because their lineup wasted a pair of bases-loaded chances and went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, so the bullpen had to go three innings with no margin for error.
But tonight they got it done. Despite not getting hits with RISP, the A’s still made enough contact to cash in some of their runners with a pair of sac flies and an RBI groundout, and the ultimate go-ahead run came home on a passed ball. Oakland’s defense had a few miscues but made a big play in the 8th inning, helping the relievers lock the game down with scoreless work.
The first half of the game featured some familiar frustrations. On offense, the A’s loaded the bases in four of the first five innings but only got three runs out of it. Meanwhile, the opponent somehow managed to put together a long rally for exactly one more run than that.
The Halos starter was a Double-A pitcher making his MLB debut. Oakland loaded the bases within the first four batters on a HBP and two walks, but struck out twice to strand them. In the 2nd they loaded them again on a single and two more walks, with nobody out, and this time they came through with an RBI single by Josh Harrison and a sac fly by Matt Olson.
But the early lead quickly disappeared.
Leading off the bottom of the 2nd, Kurt Suzuki homered, making him the latest Former Athletic to haunt the club and also the marking the one millionth game in a row they’ve allowed a homer to the opposing catcher.
Then came a gift-wrapped rally. The next batter hit a grounder to shortstop, where super-sub Harrison was playing tonight, and Harrison booted it for an error. Another single put runners on the corners, and a sac bunt got botched by pitcher Cole Irvin for another error, leaving everybody safe and a run across the plate. Another sac bunt moved the runners up to second and third, and the relentlessly pesky David Fletcher did exactly what you expected he would, slashing a single to drive them both home.
A solo homer, two singles, and two errors, adding up to four runs, only one earned. That’s the way September has felt for the A’s. Fortunately those were the only runs allowed by Irvin, who settled down from there and kept the team in the game.
- Irvin: 6 ip, 4 runs (1 earned), 3 Ks, 1 BB, 1 HR, 7 hits, 89 pitches, 82.2 mph EV
Technically that’s a quality start, and most importantly he chewed through six innings rather than needing an early rescue from the tired bullpen.
But for now Oakland trailed 4-2 after two innings, so the offense had some catching up to do. They loaded the bases again in the 3rd inning, on two singles and a walk, and Harrison knocked one in with a sac fly but they got nothing more. In the 5th they loaded the bases yet again, on a single and two walks, and this time Harrison grounded into a double play to end the inning.
Through five innings, the A’s left 11 runners on base and went 1-for-5 with RISP, they allowed three unearned runs, and they trailed by one.
Comeback and lockdown
The second half of the game went much better, in ways that hopefully can become familiar again. The offense kept scoring and completed their comeback, and the bullpen locked it down the rest of the way.
In the 6th, Oakland put on a pair of runners with a single and a walk, and found themselves facing an Angels reliever making his second MLB appearance. A passed ball got by the catcher Suzuki, moving the runners up to second and third, and pinch-hitter Seth Brown made productive contact for an RBI groundout to tie the score.
A few moments later, another passed ball skipped past Suzuki, allowing the other runner to trot home with the go-ahead run.
6th inning: brand new ballgame pic.twitter.com/HsZekvgD1J— Oakland A's (@Athletics) September 18, 2021
The gifts given by the A’s in the 2nd inning had been returned by the Halos, and Oakland now led 5-4. All they needed to do was keep it that way.
Entering tonight, the A’s bullpen had blown five saves in September while converting only three. Tonight they would be asked for three innings.
In the 7th it was Jake Diekman, who was perfect including a strikeout of Shohei Ohtani.
In the 8th it was Lou Trivino. He got the first two outs, then Suzuki tapped a slow grounder to third but made it for an infield single. The next batter hit a single to center, which could have spelled trouble, but CF Starling Marte threw out the pinch-runner at third base to end the inning.
Don’t run on Starling!
In the 9th it was Sergio Romo. He got the first out, but then a grounder took a bad hop for an infield single. The next batter hit a 387-foot fly but it went to straightaway center and faded on the track for the second out. That brought up the unsinkable Fletcher, because nothing is ever easy, but Romo got him to fly out to end the game. Ohtani was left waiting on deck.
The lineup came through in the 6th, with those one or two extra plays they needed but so often haven’t gotten this year. The defense came through in the 8th, after faltering in the 2nd. And the bullpen came through for three, whaddya call them again? Scoreless innings.
A win is a win is a win
It wasn’t a pretty win, but it counts the same in the standings, and at this point that’s what matters in the sprint to the finish line. The A’s have had plenty of Moral Victory days when they’ve nonetheless taken a loss, and tonight they scratched and clawed and got away with a close one.
Oakland has now won three games in a row, and they’re only two back in the loss column behind each of the three teams ahead of them for the two Wild Card spots.
Note: This game was televised on YouTube, and you can click here to watch the whole thing. Or, the Matt Chapman highlight below sums it up in 17 seconds.