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Game #33: Late Brown homer propels A’s to third straight win

The offense is finally starting to find its rhythm

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The A’s won their third straight game on Thursday, beating the Detroit Tigers 5-3 and finishing the series winning four out of five.

There was early and late scoring in this one, with the A’s scoring three runs in the first and two in the eighth. The defense flashed the leather a few times, while the pitching did enough to keep the A’s in the game until the big hit arrived. The A’s now head home for a weekend series against division-rival Los Angeles Angels.

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

Early offense

Second baseman Tony Kemp began this game with a first-pitch single to right field and promptly stole second to get a runner in scoring position within just a couple minutes of the game starting. Today’s third baseman Sheldon Neuse worked a full-count walk that brought up DH Jed Lowrie with two on and nobody out:

The A’s weren’t done there, but they had a little help. Ramon Laureano, who has started to warm up at the plate since returning from suspension, hit a tapper that Tigers starting pitcher Beau Brieske wasn’t able to field cleanly, loading the bases for Christian Bethancourt. Coming off a three-hit night, Bethancourt came through for the A’s yet again with this:

The rally ended when Laureano was duped on a pump-fake by the Tigers’ catcher and got caught in a rundown between home plate and third, but the damage was done and Oakland was up 3-0 before the A’s starter had even taken the mound.

Another solid pitching performance

Right-hander James Kaprielian got the start in the finale today and looked pretty good going through the Detroit order the first time through. After retiring the first six batters, trouble found Kap in the third thanks to a leadoff single and walk. A groundout set up a runners on the corners situation for former Athletic Robbie Grossman, who up until last year was known to be skilled at avoiding strikeouts. That’s exactly what happened, though, with Kap getting a generous call on a check swing for strike three, his first and only strikeout of the day. A harmless groundout ended the threat and preserved the three run lead.

Detroit finally broke through against the A’s in the bottom of the fifth. Again, a single and a walk put a runner in scoring position and this time the Tigers made Kaprielian pay. Catcher Tucker Barnhart barrled a ball at 102 MPH off the bat for an RBI double, and Grossman came up and came through this time for an RBI groundout that cut the lead to one. Kap finished the inning, but that was it for him today.

  • James Kaprielian: 5 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 1 K, 75 pitches

He wasn't as dominant as his previous start when he racked up seven strikeouts, but Kap did enough on a day where it seemed he didn’t have all his pitches working for him. There were a bunch of at-bats where he was able to get two strikes on Tigers hitters but couldn’t finish them off. The pitch count wasn’t bad, but he seemed to be tailing off as the game went on and Mark Kotsay doesn’t like seeing his starters face a lineup three times, so the writing was on the wall after the fifth.

The middle innings

Turning to the bullpen to start the sixth, Kotsay went to Domingo Acevedo, who immediately gave up the lead thanks to a leadoff triple and RBI double by future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera. It could have turned ugly, but thanks to a nice play by Bethancourt, playing catcher today, that was all that he surrendered in his lone inning of work:

As for the offense, since collecting three soft singles in the first inning, Oakland managed just one more single and a pair of walks for the next six. At least they were mostly avoiding strikeouts today, walking four times to only five K’s, but the bats went cold for a while in this one.

Left-hander A.J. Puk, who has been an absolute revelation coming out of the bullpen this year, relieved Acevedo and started the seventh, only threw 13 pitches and went back out there for the eighth, allowing just a soft single to Barnhart in his two innings.

It’s tempting to imagine what Puk could do in the rotation with as well as he’s throwing, or even handling closing duties. This multi-inning weapon has been the plan all year, though, and it would be a mild surprise to see the A’s begin using Puk for only one inning appearances as a closer when he’s clearly built up enough to handle multiple frames. He may ultimately end up in either role, but for now, he’s dominating with the way he’s being used and it’s helping the A’s win games.

Per Matt Kawahara:

A.J. Puk worked two scoreless innings on 24 pitches, 16 strikes. He has used his slider a lot this season but today threw 19 fastballs. He sat 96-97 mph and touched 98.

The big hit

With the game all tied up and the offense going cold, it began to feel like this one might slip away. The Tigers seemingly had momentum after tying the game and one of their best relievers, former starter Michael Fulmer, in to face the heart of the A’s lineup.

After Fulmer got two quick outs in the top of the eighth, Lowrie worked a five-pitch walk that brought up today’s cleanup hitter, Seth Brown. On a full-count, Brownie took a pitch down the middle and did something with it:

And just like that the A’s had the lead again! It was Brown’s only hit of the day, but he sure made it count. It’s been a while since Brownie hit a jack, with his last one coming all the way back on April 11th, so hopefully this blast sparked something in his bat to help get it going for him. The offense could desperately use him and his power.

With Puk already throwing two innings, Kotsay turned to Dany Jimenez, the presumed closer at this point, for the ninth inning. There was no sweating during his appearance, as the right-hander retired all three hitters he faced, with a terrific play by Kemp for the last out:

It feels like so long ago this squad had lost nine in a row, but the mojo is back and the A’s head home winners of their first series in five tries. The offense has scored 18 runs over their last three games, as many as they had scored in the previous 10. The starting pitching, outside of the first game on Tuesday, showed off against the Tigers, the defense was solid and the bullpen was even better. On top of it all, the A’s aren’t in last place anymore!

The A’s now head home as winners of three straight and preparing for a weekend series against the Los Angeles Angels, who are tied for first place in the AL West. It’ll be a four-game set, with another doubleheader set for Saturday. Oakland can look forward to a tougher series than Detroit, but the team is trending up at the right time and the bats are showing life again. Let’s keep this energy going!