It felt like the A’s would never win again. After Oakland got handed their 5th and 6th straight losses, the floor for this team seemed like it was sinking lower and lower. With a mix of unproven rookies and bargain bin veterans, any silver linings that A’s fans saw going into the season felt like they were getting dimmer as each day went by and each loss piled up.
Today was a gut check and talent check for the team. Do they have the mental fortitude to get back up after getting put all the way down? Do they even have enough major league players to win actual ballgames?
Players from up and down the roster answered the call today, putting together a solid performance from beginning to end. Starting off the game strong, Tony Kemp led off the 1st inning by smoking a down-the-middle fastball to right-center field, getting him to 2nd base with no outs on the board. Ryan Noda then launched a curveball to right field, which Austin Hays barely caught over his head, allowing Kemp to tag up and move to 3rd.
Then, the hot-hitting Ramon Laureano stepped up to the plate but didn’t get a chance to do any damage as Orioles starter Dean Kremer beaned Laureano’s right wrist on the second pitch of the at-bat. Luckily, it looked like a mild grazing and Laser strode to 1st base without any visible pain. With runners on 1st and 3rd with no outs now, the somewhat maligned Brent Rooker stepped up to the plate. In spite of the flack he’s been getting for “taking” the roster spot of former A’s top prospect and now-Phillies backup outfielder Christian Pache, Rooker has hit the ball hard a ton and has only struck twice in 13 at-bats (much better than his 31% K rate at AAA).
The A’s clearly believe in his talent, slotting him in the cleanup spot for the second night in a row, and after his last two games, Oakland fans may have to start believing in him too. After a couple of quick strikes that put him behind in the count, Rooker launched a big 3-run homer to deep right-center, giving the A’s an early 3-0 lead.
But after the rough last week of Oakland baseball, specifically Oakland starting pitching, early leads mean nothing to A’s Nation in 2023. Following a lengthy string of poor-commanded starts, it was up to rookie Ken Waldichuk to buck the trend and lay some 0’s down on the Orioles. And outside of a messy 2nd, that’s exactly what he did.
Throwing a whopping 107 pitches over the span of 6.1 innings, Waldichuk finally put together a start worthy of his top prospect status. Allowing just 3 runs while striking out 4, he held the lead all the way through the end of his start. A 5th inning left-field bomb from A’s backup catcher Carlos Perez helped his cause, making the game 4-2.
Unfortunately, the young lefty couldn’t walk away with the win, though not his own fault. With manager Mark Kotsay trying to build his confidence all the way up by letting him start the 7th, Waldichuk struck out former A’s top prospect and reigning stolen base king Jorge Mateo. But the next batter, Adam Frazier, squeezed a single through the shortstop hole, effectively ending Waldichuk’s night. In relief of him, Jeurys Familia threw a passed ball and allowed 2 more singles in the inning that tied the game at 4-4 and the A’s were most definitely headed for their 7th straight loss.
The 8th inning, thankfully, turned things around. With Rooker leading off the inning, he once again showed he’s worth betting on, hitting a sharp line-drive single to left field. Two more singles from Jace Peterson and Aledmys Diaz (the latter’s was a bunt hit) loaded the bases with no outs. The A’s kept the small ball going, with Jesus Aguilar driving in a run with a sac fly and Kevin Smith doing the same with a sac bunt. That’s a lot of sacrificing. Perez continued his hot night with a clean single up the middle, getting Nick Allen — pinch-running for Diaz — home from 2nd base and extending the A’s lead to 7-4.
The rest of the lineup got some action in the 9th as well; three straight singles from Noda, Laureano, and Ruiz got the A’s a nice insurance run. Needing 6 outs in the 8th and 9th to end the losing streak, Kotsay surprisingly turned to Chad Smith fresh off a callup from AAA. Acquired for starting pitching prospect Jeff Criswell in the offseason, Smith masterfully utilized his nasty sinker-slider combo to strike out 3 hitters over 2 innings. He also threw an efficient 27 pitches to allow just 1 baserunner and earn the win, making the A’s front office look smart for a night.
It was an exciting and much-needed win for the Oakland A’s, and it required everyone’s contributions. The team needed Waldichuk to step up, it needed someone like Rooker to break out, it needed someone from the bullpen to look the game down. The good vibes may be short-lived with another matchup against the Orioles tomorrow and a weekend series against the contending New York Mets, but A’s Nation will take the win and hope it doesn’t take another week to get the next one.