By Morris Phillips
AP photo: Elvis home run balls have left the building, Elvis Andrus (1) of he Texas Rangers get congratulated by teammate Ryan Rua after hitting a two run shot in the sixth inning as Oakland A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell waits for the celebration to end
OAKLAND–Elvis Andrus wasn’t in the celebrating mood on Friday night on the occasion of his Rangers wrapping up the AL West title. While his teammates blazed a path of destruction in the clubhouse—first with ginger ale, then with champagne—Andrus refrained, hoping his restraint would help him recover from a bug that had slowed him in recent days.
He also requested that manager Jeff Bannister pencil him into the lineup on Saturday, while the other Rangers’ regulars stepped back after a night of celebration.
Not bad decisions it turns out.
Andrus homered twice—both off A’s starter Raul Alcantara—and the Rangers kept the foot on the gas, winning 5-0, shutting out the A’s for the second straight day.
So unexpected was his outburst, teammate Adrian Beltre had to remind Andrus to swing for the fences in his final at-bat as well, feeling that there would be no way the light-hitting shortstop would ever again be in the position to hit three homers in a game.
Andrus hit just six home runs coming in, and settled for two more after he flew out to right fielder Danny Valencia in the ninth. But no mistake, that was plenty to bury the non-swinging A’s, already burdened by their offensive struggles, then lumped with a heaping scoop of Yu Darvish on Saturday.
Darvish showed his playoff readiness by pitching seven innings, allowing two hits while striking out nine, easily the best line the 30-year old has posted since undergoing Tommy John surgery 18 months ago. Of course, this comes one start after Darvish allowed the A’s seven hits, including two homers in five innings, in Arlington, leaving that day with Oakland leading 7-0.
So does Darvish’s rebound say more about him or more about the A’s? Any statistician—after draining the nearest, uncorked bottled of wine and banging his head with a mallet a couple of times—would frustratingly conclude a larger sample size is needed. But the confounding A’s win this contest hands down: after scoring a whopping 65 runs in seven games on the road (6-1), the A’s have scored eight runs in five losses at home.
“We were scoring runs in bunches, we won six out of seven, had a chance to sweep seven in a row,” manager Bob Melvin said. “We really had a good feeling coming in here, and then haven’t been able to sustain anything since we’ve been home.”
“When we have our days, when we’re clicking, you can’t get any of us out. So it’s frustrating, but at the same time, it’s also part of the game,” catcher Bruce Maxwell said.
The A’s slump puts them a tense situation for Sunday’s season finale at home. Losers of their last eight home games (last suffered in May 2001), and now a season-high 25 ½ games out of first place (the most they’ve trailed an AL West race since 1997), this team needs a win in the worst way.
Do the A’s want the spectre of a nine-game losing streak hanging over their heads on Opening Night 2017? From GM Billy Beane all the way down to the team’s groundskeeping crew, the answer is absolutely not.
Jharel Cotton, a rookie albeit an impressive one, will get the start for the A’s on Sunday. He’ll face wily veteran Colby Lewis, amped up to show Bannister and the Texas brass that he deserves to make post-season starts behind the Rangers’ impressive one-two punch of Cole Hamels and Darvish. Lewis also will have the team’s regular lineup behind him, minus Andrus, after their well-deserved day of rest.
NOTES: Alcantara enjoyed the lengthiest of his four big league starts on Saturday, finishing six innings, walking one, striking out six while allowing the two home runs to Andrus. The Dominican pitcher with the eye-popping stint at AAA Nashville this season, remains a candidate for the A’s 2017 rotation along with Sonny Gray, Kendall Graveman, Jesse Hahn, Cotton and others. Ryon Healy has followed his 10-game hit streak with a 1 for 16 slide, including 0 for 4 on Saturday. The rookie had eight extra-base hits and 10 RBI during his streak.