The Oakland Athletics beat the San Francisco Giants 1-0 Wednesday evening, splitting the series, avoiding the sweep, and saving A’s fans from the possibility of gloating Giants fans for a few months.
Starting pitcher Paul Blackburn was in and out of trouble for most of the night but managed to keep the Giants off the board, and the entire scoring came from the first batter of the game.
Of note, this was the first time the Oakland A’s won a game 1-0 thanks to a leadoff home run. Some cool history, right there!
Fresh off the IL with what sounded like a tough bout of COVID, Chad Pinder was put in the leadoff spot against the left-handed ‘opener’ Sam Long. Good call by manager Mark Kotsay, as Pinder took the sixth pitch of the game and pulled it over the left field fence to give Oakland the quick lead:
Pinder's first at-bat off the COVID-19 IL is a leadoff homer pic.twitter.com/Aua8hxyF6m— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) April 28, 2022
Per Vince Cotroneo:
“Chad Pinder explained to me this afternoon while on the COVID IL, he rediscovered his toe tap set up at the plate and abandoned a leg kick- first career leadoff HR”
The team getting healthier and the impending return of Ramon Laureano means there’s going to be less at-bats to go around here pretty soon. If this adjustment by Pinder unlocks another level in his bat, that’ll go a long way towards him staying in the lineup on a regular basis. Pinder finished 2-4 today with the homerun, a single, and two strikeouts.
The Giants got their own leadoff batter on in the bottom half of the first thanks to a Sheldon Neuse fielding error while he was shifted to second base. Luckily a hard-hit line drive off the bat of Brandon Belt found the glove of Seth Brown at first base, who was easily able to double off the runner. Blackburn struck out the next batter to end the inning. Solid start to the game on both sides of the ball!
Double plays were Blackburn’s best friend tonight, getting them in each of the first three innings. The third inning in particular saw him wiggle out of a bases-loaded jam, again getting Belt on a double play. This one was, let’s say, a bit closer:
Blackburn went two more innings, getting a couple strikeouts in the fourth and working around a leadoff double in the fifth to keep the Giants off the board.
- Paul Blackburn: 5 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K, 84 pitches
A lot of ground balls helped Blackburn work out of the trouble he kept finding himself in, and if it weren’t for a couple Neuse errors, he likely would have thrown a lot less and possibly could have gone one more inning. He was already at 69 pitches through the first four frames, though, and Kotsay has rarely let the starters face a lineup a third time through this season. Blackburn has now pitched five complete innings in each of his four starts of the year. The A’s will take that every single time.
Mark Kotsay applauds Paul Blackburn's performance on the mound this season pic.twitter.com/aKVnaTsJ6r— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) April 28, 2022
On the offensive side for Oakland, the Pinder homer represented the entire offense of the game. The A’s had no answer for bulk pitcher Jakob Junis tonight, only managing four hits and a walk against the right-hander while striking out six times in five innings.
It took all the way until the fifth for Oakland to rally and get a runner to second base thanks to singles by Elvis Andrus and Tony Kemp. But with two outs and Andrus at third, Kemp was inexcusably picked off from first by Junis, with Pinder striking out next and ending that scoring chance.
The seventh saw the A’s set up another chance for an insurance run. A 2-out line drive by Cristian Pache snuck just by the right fielder and rolled all the way to the wall in triples alley for a standup triple. Kemp came up and put a good swing on a pitch, but lined out to center to end the inning.
Oakland had one more chance for an insurance run in the ninth after Billy McKinney pinch hit for Christian Bethancourt and lined a double down the right field line. San Francisco intentionally walked Brown to get to Andrus, who struck out on three pitches. Pache lined out to center for the final out.
Apparently it wasn’t just Blackburn tonight. San Francisco couldn’t get anything going against A’s relievers either. Domingo Acevedo relieved Blackburn and tossed a perfect sixth with a strikeout, Sam Moll got a couple outs in the seventh (along with a walk), with Zach Jackson getting a full-count swinging strikeout to end that frame. Jackson himself walked the first batter of the eighth but got two more outs. With the left-handed Brandon Belt up to bat, Kotsay went to lefty Kirby Snead. The runner stole second base without a throw and made it a little tense, but Snead did his job, focusing on the batter and getting Belt to fly out on a 3-1 count.
Per Vince Cotroneo:
“Including tonight, A’s relievers have allowed only 6 of 35 inherited runners to score... best inn A.L.”
With a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the ninth, Kotsay turned to Dany Jimenez for the save. Heart rates were rising after it looked like the leadoff man got aboard on an infield single, but replay showed Brown’s outstretched glove just got the leg of Wilmer Flores and umpires overturned the call. A ground out and pop out ended the game, with Blackburn getting his third win and Jimenez getting his fourth save. What a story Jimenez is, going from a Rule 5 pick to where he is.
- A’s relievers tonight: 4 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 3 K
An amazing pitching performance top to bottom, with Blackburn fighting errors and weak-contact singles to put up another scoreless outing. He dropped his ERA to 1.35, good for third in the A.L. The bullpen was lights out again. And while the offense continues its downward trend, it’s good to keep in mind that offense across the league is depressed right now. It’s not just us!
The A’s split the first half of the Bay Bridge Series, and we’ll have to wait until early August to see these Giants again. Oakland is back above .500 and have an off-day tomorrow before hosting a three-game set against the Cleveland Guardians, followed by three against the Tampa Bay Rays. With the way the schedule worked out, the A’s were essentially able to stick around the Bay Area for more than two weeks, They deserved it after starting the first 10 games on the road.
- Elvis Andrus got his first hit since last Thursday and continues to struggle after a hot start, with only 2 singles in his last 22 at-bats with 8 K’s.
- Sheldon Neuse had a couple errors tonight, but one of those was essentially at second base, not his best position and one he hasn’t played in a couple weeks at this point. Let that one slide.
- Andrus isn’t the only batter in a major slump. Christian Bethancourt has 3 hits in 21 at-bats himself, with no walks and 7 K’s, and his spot isn’t as guaranteed as Andrus’ spot is.
- We can call Dany Jimenez the closer by now, can’t we? He has yet to give up a run in 8 appearances this season and has four saves. It’d be a shock to see Kotsay return to Lou Trivino whenever he returns from the COVID IL.