It looks like James Kaprielian and the Oakland A’s still have something left in the tank after all.
The rookie starter tossed six scoreless innings and the A’s held on for a 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday, ending with a highlight catch by second baseman Josh Harrison. It’s Oakland’s fourth straight win, and their second in this series in Anaheim, as they continue to battle down the stretch of the postseason race.
Kaprielian wasn’t even supposed to be here today, or at least not to begin the game. The original plan was for fellow rookie Daulton Jefferies to make the start, with Kaprielian moving to the bullpen after a career-high workload and three straight shaky outings. But Jefferies went on the injured list this afternoon, and Kap was thrust back into the rotation.
The right-hander responded with one of his best performances of the season. He faced 20 batters and retired 18 of them, breezing through six nearly perfect innings. There were a few deep flyouts but nothing found the seats, and all the Angels got was a single in the 3rd and a double in the 6th.
- Kaprielian: 6 ip, 0 runs, 5 Ks, 0 BB, 2 hits, 90 pitches, 94.0 mph EV
It’s the first time he’s completed six frames since early August, seven starts ago. It’s his fourth scoreless outing of the year in 21 tries, and only the third time he’s issued zero walks. It came against a weakened Halos lineup that’s averaging just 3.5 runs per game in September, but it was still a quality effort at a clutch moment.
Lights out.— Oakland A's (@Athletics) September 19, 2021
6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 5 K pic.twitter.com/qEYnUDAMVB
“I think he was kind of reinvigorated that he got a chance to pitch again,” said manager Bob Melvin of Kaprielian, via Matt Kawahara of the S.F. Chronicle. “We all know he’s a warrior, that’s one of his best attributes is just his strength and determination and how hard he fights. But to give us 6IP, 2hits, no walks, pretty good game.”
While Kaprielian was spinning zeroes, the A’s lineup was building an early lead, which has become nearly a daily occurrence lately.
It all came in the 1st inning. Oakland’s third batter of the game, Matt Olson, launched a solo homer to right field.
That was Olson’s 36th dinger of the year, tying his career-high, and also his MLB-leading 20th off a lefty pitcher.
The A’s weren’t done. After Olson’s long ball, Mark Canha drew a walk, and Chad Pinder doubled him in. Matt Chapman followed with another double to plate Pinder.
The good news was, the quick blitz gave them a 3-0 lead. The bad news was, they didn’t score again for the rest of the evening. In fact they never even got to third base again, scattering just five runners the rest of the way.
Bullpen holds on again
It would be up to the bullpen to hold another close game. After a deep slump the past month, they’d recovered this week to protect leads each of the previous three days. Tonight they’d need three innings, with a three-run cushion.
The 7th inning went to Deolis Guerra. He allowed a pair of singles and appeared to escape the jam with a double play, but a replay review reversed the call at first base when the ball squirted out of Guerra’s glove late. The overturn meant the inning continued, and the Angels cashed in with an RBI single before Guerra finally ended it.
Bob Melvin was ejected for arguing with the ump after replay overturned a call at first base pic.twitter.com/s13OpkPGEg— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) September 19, 2021
The call itself was defensible, that Guerra didn’t hold the ball long enough. The A’s benefited from something similar earlier this summer when an opposing outfielder dropped a catch. But Melvin objected to some of the details of the process itself, including how long it took to request the challenge, and the reviewability of the play in question, reports Shayna Rubin of the Mercury News:
Bob Melvin on the ejection: “You have 20 seconds to challenge a call, not an unlimited time. You can’t challenge a catch/ no catch on the infield, only in the outfield. So to me that was just ridiculous.”
Right or wrong, the whole episode added up to a run for the Halos, and now Oakland led 3-1.
The 8th inning went to Yusmeiro Petit, who’s been going through a rare slump with runs in four of his previous five appearances including two blown saves. Tonight he was nails, retiring the side in order.
The 9th inning was sheer terror. Andrew Chafin got the call, and his first assignment was MVP frontrunner Shohei Ohtani, who drilled a 108.7 mph liner for a single. The next batter hit it even harder, 109.3 mph, but directly into a infielder’s glove for an out. All-Star slugger Jared Walsh then blasted a fly 383 feet into right-center, but that was caught on the warning track. Two outs, despite three straight rockets.
The next batter poked a single to push the runners to the corners, and then Chafin issued a walk to load the bases. That brought up Max Stassi, a double-whammy of A’s weaknesses — an opposing catcher, and one of Oakland’s former players, though Stassi only appeared in the minors for them as a prospect. On the second pitch, Stassi connected for what looked like the perfect bloop to shallow center for a game-tying single, but second baseman Harrison timed a leap and used every inch of his 5-foot-8 frame to snag it in the tip of his glove.
Snow cone catch. Game over. A’s win.
SHOUT OUT TO HARRISON'S CLUTCH CATCH TO END THE GAME pic.twitter.com/d0srI8ziuk— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) September 19, 2021
At the plate, Harrison has 12 RBI in his last eight games, and he hit another double tonight. In the field, he had the game-saving catch, while playing his third different position in the past three days (3B Thursday, SS Friday, 3B Saturday). Putting the Super in super-sub.
Just keep winning
Oakland is finally taking advantage of their chances against sub-.500 teams. Their hot lineup wasn’t at its best today but did just enough, and the beleaguered pitching staff reached deep to shut down a relatively weak opponent. They kept losing this kind of close game over and over the past month, but this week they’re beginning to win them again.
The A’s are now two games back of the Second Wild Card spot, with 14 left to play.
Sean Murphy: "September is when good teams show up and we have to do that. We’re still in this, we’re in striking distance, we’ve just got to win a bunch of games from here on out and we absolutely know we can do it."— Matt Kawahara (@matthewkawahara) September 19, 2021