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Game #156: A’s walk off again, sweep Astros

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Canha get a walk-off?!

Houston Astros v Oakland Athletics Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s played their last home game of 2021 on Sunday, and they went out with a bang.

The A’s won 4-3 on a walk-off in the 9th inning, completing a sweep of the division-leading Houston Astros. The series of victories means the Astros will have to wait to clinch the AL West title, and they won’t celebrate at the Coliseum.

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

Oakland trailed in the late innings, but they scratched out two runs in the 7th, capped with an RBI infield single by Mark Canha to tie the score. In the 9th they loaded the bases, and Canha came through again with a rocket to the wall to drive in the game-winner. It goes down in the box score as a single but it would normally have been enough for a double, and it was just a few feet short of a grand slam.

With Canha entering free agency this winter, it’s fair to wonder whether this was his last home game at the Coliseum. If so, it was a perfect sendoff for the Bay Area product, complete with an emphatic bat flip.

“One last day of bat-flippin’ season for the people,” said Canha after the game.

Throughout the weekend, the A’s offered a sampler platter of different styles of victories. On Friday it was an offensive blowout with 14 runs, then on Saturday it was a tight pitcher’s duel ending in a walk-off, and now on Sunday it was a late comeback and a second straight walk-off. It was everything we’d hoped to see them do all year, just a week too late to help get them to the postseason.

Houston takes lead

Oakland scored the first run of the game, but it was the Astros who took control midway through.

A’s starter Paul Blackburn retired 14 of the first 15 batters he faced, breezing into the 5th inning, but Houston finally hustled their way onto the scoreboard. An infield single, a groundball single, and another infield single combined for a run to tie it up. Both infield singles were plays that Oakland’s defense would normally have made but didn’t this time.

  • Blackburn: 5 ip, 1 run, 1 K, 1 BB, 3 hits, 87 pitches, 92.6 mph EV

It was a fantastic effort by the right-hander, but the bullpen would need to take it the rest of the way.

First up was the trusty Deolis Guerra, but it wasn’t his night. His first batter homered, followed by a single and an RBI double, and suddenly the Astros had a 3-1 lead. Yusmeiro Petit cleaned up the mess and kept it quiet through the 7th, but the A’s lineup had some work to do.

Oakland comes back

They’d been all over the bases throughout the afternoon, but Oakland didn’t have much to show for it so far. They stranded a runner in the 1st, and two in the 3rd, and two more in the 4th, with just one run crossing the plate in the 2nd. That was courtesy of Tony Kemp, who notched an RBI single as part of a big day on both sides of the ball.

But that was it until the bottom of the 7th. Now trailing by two runs, Kemp led off with another single, his third of the game. The next batter was hit by a pitch, and both runners moved up on a sac bunt. Starling Marte made enough contact for an RBI groundout to cash in one run, and then Canha followed with a grounder down the line that the 3B couldn’t handle, plating the tying run.

The A’s bullpen held serve long enough for the lineup to keep getting chances. In the 8th, Andrew Chafin let the first two batters aboard but then retired three straight to strand them. In the 9th, Lou Trivino allowed a pair of singles, but on the second hit, the runner tried to score all the way from first base and was thrown out at the plate to end the inning.

That clutch defensive play preserved the tie, and Oakland finished taking care of business in the bottom of the 9th. Sean Murphy led off with a single, and Vimael Machin laid down a bunt that nobody could get to for another single. The reliever uncorked a wild pitch, and the runners moved up to second and third with nobody out.

At the plate was Marte, who had delivered the walk-off RBI yesterday, but this time he flew out too shallow for the catcher Murphy to attempt to tag from third. Matt Olson was then intentionally walked to load the bags.

That brought up Canha, and a pitching change to All-Star closer Ryan Pressly, who had allowed the game-winner to Marte yesterday. Canha blasted Pressly’s first pitch off the wall in left-center.

It was nearer to being a homer than the single he gets credit for, but most importantly it won the game. For the second straight day they shook up Pressly and walked off against the Astros.

And how about an extra shout-out for Kemp, who had a big performance against his former Houston team. At the plate he had three hits, once driving in a run and later sparking the game-tying rally. On defense, his relay throw in the top of the 9th helped stop the potential go-ahead run, and he also made this nice grab at second base (but really basically shortstop).

On the downside, since this is 2021, there was still one piece of bad news amid the victory. Super-sub Josh Harrison exited after the 5th inning, appearing to have discomfort in his leg. He was already replacing the injured Elvis Andrus at shortstop, and Machin entered to take over the position.

Bittersweep

Whyyyyy wasn’t it like this all summer? The A’s played great all weekend, and even when they made a few mistakes, they atoned with big plays later. It’s what we thought they were capable of all along, but it just rarely came together like this for more than a few days at a time.

It’s good that they won. But it hurts so much more that it’s happening one moment too late. It’s fun to shut down Houston for three days in a row. But it just means the final Wild Card standings will be that much closer and we’ll have to look back at the frustrating individual losses that made the difference. It’s a relief that the Asterisks won’t celebrate on Rickey Henderson Field. But it’s a bummer that Oakland won’t either. It’s bittersweep.

At least it ended with a bat flip.