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Shea has a day, clutch homer terminates A’s 8-game losing streak

The catcher’s solo shot in the 9th secured the win after six strong innings from James Kaprielian.

Oakland Athletics v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images

I can’t count the number of times this season I’ve written either “The A’s extend their losing streak” or “The A’s finally end their losing streak.” Thankfully, today is a case of the latter.

Facing a well-rounded team led by a couple of former Oakland franchise cornerstones, third baseman Matt Chapman and starter Chris Bassitt, the A’s needed to bring their A-game (no pun intended) in order to halt their 8-game slide. Following a ton of one-run games that had them on the losing end, the 1st inning showed that today’s squad was ready to flip their fortunes.

The ballgame started off with a bit of an Oakland throwback. With regular leadoff man Esteury Ruiz getting some rest, the hot-hitting Tony Kemp was slated for the 1-hole for the first time since April 15th. Entering the game with a 7-game on-base streak in which he’s hitting a whopping .471/.591/.706, the veteran second baseman extended his tear, slapping a single to left field and stealing second on the first pitch of Ryan Noda’s at-bat. It’s as if Ruiz never left the lineup.

After Ryan Noda got called out on strikes, JJ Bleday, upgraded to the 3-spot today, launched a towering two-run homer to right field, making it a quick 2-0 game.

Cleanup hitter Seth Brown then struck out but the A’s got a 2-out rally going with a walk and a single from a couple more infield vets, Aledmys Diaz and Jace Peterson. With runners on 1st and 2nd, Shea Langeliers took a first-pitch sinker from Bassitt before bouncing the next one past first base and into right field, scoring Diaz and making it a 3-0 game. This would just be the start of a big day for the sophomore catcher.

Tasked with defending the lead, James Kaprielian brought some of his filthiest stuff to the ballgame today, continuing to cement his long-fleeting spot in the Oakland rotation. As a reminder, Kap started the season with a 12.94 ERA and walking 16% of the batters he faced, both as a starter and reliever, before getting sent down to AAA on April 24th. Since that first demotion, he’s pitched to a strong 3.69 ERA/4.07 FIP, cut his walk rate to an almost league-average 9.6%, and completed 5 innings in nearly all his starts (except one where he pitched 4 23 innings). That’s typically something to expect and not to celebrate, but it’s a huge deal for an A’s pitching staff that’s struggled all season to find consistent performers.

Today, he pitched one of his best starts of the season, going six full innings while striking out eight Blue Jays batters, half on four-seam fastballs and the other half on nasty sliders like the one below:

He did, unfortunately, allow a four-run 3rd inning that tainted his outing a bit. That inning included leadoff back-to-back doubles from Danny Jansen and Kevin Kiermaier, as well as a deep 3-run moonshot from Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. that flipped the game into a 4-3 lead for Toronto. While Kap didn’t end up with the official win, his performance will still be remembered as a strong one that kept the game just close enough for some late-game heroics to save the day.

To tie the game, the A’s took advantage of being gifted a leadoff runner in the 5th after Bassitt hit Connor Capel in his first game back in the majors. Noda subsequently hit a first-pitch four-seamer into right field, allowing the speedy Capel to get to third. The next batter, Bleday, attempted to hit a pitch to the same spot where he homered earlier in the game. While it didn’t get deep enough to leave the park, it was deep enough to score Capel on a sacrifice fly and tie the game up at 4-4.

Fast forward to the top of the 9th inning, the Blue Jays sent in their big, bad closer, Jordan Romano, who already has 22 saves in less than three months to hold the lead. First to face him was Jace Peterson, who hit a nice flyball into right-center field that was on the brink of dropping on the outfield grass. Unfortunately for the A’s, a sprinting and diving George Springer made a spectacular catch, robbing Peterson of his leadoff hit and sending the Rogers Centre crowd into a frenzy.

It wouldn’t be long before the crowd was silenced. Langeliers, having already knocked in the first run of the game, decided to score the last one as well. Romano started the at-bat trying to get the young catcher to chase a couple of 96 mph heaters above the zone. He succeeded with the first but Langeliers held off of the second, building a 1-1 count. Jansen, the Blue Jays’ own young catcher, decided to switch it up with some off-speed, calling a low and away slider. Romano, who’s known to have pretty tight command of his pitches, missed his spot and hung the slider right in the middle of the zone and Shea made him pay. With a mighty pull swing, he launched the ball into the left-field seats and bestowed the A’s with their first 9th-inning lead since the “Reverse Boycott” game 10 days ago.

With a golden chance to completely mess things up, the A’s brought in their presumed closer, Trevor May, who’s pitched better since returning from the IL but still leaves a lot to be desired for a late-inning option. It seemed like a typical A’s chokejob was commencing with Guerrero hitting a leadoff double, right away getting the tying run in scoring position. Fortunately, some strong defense from the A’s infield kept the game from unravelling. First, some 3B-on-3B action took place with Peterson catching a scorching line drive off the bat of Chapman, much to his chagrin. Kemp made that play look little league with his own stretched-out diving catch on the dirt to steal a soft single from Whit Merrifield.

A check-swing flyout from Daulton Varsho to Capel ended the game and the A’s finally terminated their post-boycott losing streak. With the A’s seeming incapable of doing anything besides winning streaks and losing streaks, it’s likely they’ll win at least one more game before embarking on their venture into failure history. Check back tomorrow when hot Hogan Harris faces off against the dynamic Jose Berrios.