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Game #35: Walk-off! A’s beat Angels 4-3

Huge blast by Luis Barrera wins it for Oakland

MLB: Game One-Los Angeles Angels at Oakland Athletics Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Down to their last strike and nobody on base, the A’s rallied to walk-off in Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader, beating the Los Angeles Angels 4-3.

The starting pitching was fantastic, yielding just a first-inning run, and the defense made a few nice plays in the field.

The bullpen wasn’t perfect on a day it looked like they needed to be because, as has been the case too many times this season, the offense just disappeared for most of the game. But a massive three-run home run by an A’s prospect won it for Oakland, sending the A’s into Game 2 on a winning streak!

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

More solid pitching and defense

The A’s fell behind early, with the Angels opening the game with two singles and an RBI groundout by Shohei Ohtani, It was almost a single that would have kept their rally going, but an impressive dive by shortstop Elvis Andrus made sure to get at least one:

Starting pitcher Paul Blackburn locked in and struck out the next two batters to end the inning. He retied the side in the second thanks to an impressive play by a certain recently-returned right fielder:

The third inning saw Blackburn give up a double with a runner on to put runners at second and third. With two down and the left-handed Jared Walsh up to bat, manager Mark Kotsay made the right decision to intentionally walk him and load the bases for righty Jack Mayfield, who Blackburn got to pop out on a full count to Ramon Laureano in right field to end the threat.

Blackburn allowed a baserunner in each of the next couple innings but didn’t allow them to advance past first. Again, he had some help from the guys behind him, this time Chad Pinder:

Blackburn found his groove around halfway through the game, retiring the final six batters in a row, including striking out the last one he faced, ending his day on a positive note.

  • Paul Blackburn: 6 23 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 2 BB (1 IBB), 3 K, 86 pitches

With today’s performance, Blackburn now qualifies for the ERA leaderboard, where he is now officially third in the American League with a 1.67 ERA. He didn’t have his best stuff today, but that just makes the one-run performance more impressive. After not being allowed past the fifth inning in any April start, Blackburn has now made it into the seventh in back-to-back starts, which is especially helpful during this busy stretch for the rest of the pitching staff. Oakland has won six of his seven starts this season.

More lack of offense

The lineup, on the other hand, leaves a lot to be desired. It wasn’t like Oakland couldn’t get baserunners, putting the leadoff man on in six of nine innings in Game 1. That said, they had just one hit to go with five walks through the first six innings. Four double plays wiped out most of the A’s chances, struggling to string together those baserunners and spark a rally of some kind.

Until the seventh, that is. The A’s second hit, an opposite-field Laureano double, and a Christian Bethancourt groundout got an A’s runner to third base for the first time today. With a right-hander on the mound, Kotsay decided to pinch hit Kevin Smith, bringing up Jed Lowrie with a runner at third and one out:

With that RBI single, Blackburn was off the hook for the loss and Oakland was tied up with both teams into their bullpens. Oakland had to like their chances at this point.

Bullpen lets it go

In a first this year, left-hander Sam Moll allowed a run. After getting the first out of the eighth on an Ohtani groundout, a Walsh walk ended his day, with each team making a change: Zach Jackson replacing Moll and Mike Trout, who started the game on the bench, pinch-hitting for Mayfield. Jackson intentionally walked Trout and this time the IBB hurt the A’s, with a pinch-hitting Anthony Rendon, who also started today on the bench, pulling an RBI single to left to give the Angels the lead.

Another Angels single to left looked like it wouldn’t bring in a run, but Luis Barrera, who entered the game to replace Lowrie while Pinder moved to third, didn’t field the ball cleanly and allowed Trout to get up from third and score. No shut down inning, and the game was slipping away late.

Late game heroics

With one of the best closers in baseball set for the save opportunity, Oakland had a few of their better hitters coming up in Seth Brown, Sean Murphy, and Ramon Laureano. The first two couldn’t keep it going, flying out for the first two outs and bringing up Lazer Ramon. Down to his final strike, on a 2-2 count Laureano swatted another opposite-field double, his second of the game, to keep the game going. Then it was Bethancourt’s turn, drawing a five-pitch walk and bringing up Barrera. On the third pitch he saw, he gave Oakland their first walk-off win of 2022:

His first career home run couldn’t have come at a better, or more unexpected, time. With a baserunning blunder that ended the rally in the seventh, and the fielding error in the eighth that gave Los Angeles their third run, it would have been among his worst days in his young career. Instead, it’s one of his best, and most memorable, of his life.

These are the sort of chances that the A’s need to keep giving their young players this season. The record isn’t where we want it to be and it’s always possible this squad goes on a run a la 2012, but a huge part of determining whether this season is a success on the field is giving the young guys playing time and seeing how many of them are going to be long-term pieces moving forward. They’ve been doing that on the infield with Neuse and Smith, in center field with Pache, and in the rotation with Blackburn, Daulton Jefferies, and more recently Adrian Martinez and Zach Logue. Maybe Barrera is going to get a longer look soon, too. He’s in the starting lineup for Game 2.

Anyway, after looking lifeless for six innings, the offense finally got going late against the Angels’ bullpen. Blackburn continues to win games and is making a serious case for consideration to be the A’s representative at the All-Star game. Barrera had a blast on a day he’ll never forget, and the defense made some stellar plays today. All in all, a walk-off is a good start to a doubleheader against a division rival. Right-hander Adam Oller is set to start Game 2 after being recalled earlier today. Let’s see if the Green & Gold can get the doubleheader sweep.