By Morris Phillips
OAKLAND–Things don’t always work out for the Boston Red Sox when they come to the Oakland Coliseum.
The last 52 games in Oakland have resulted in 35 Red Sox’s defeats–in a period spanning more than a decade, and two of the three most recent Boston World Series titles (2004, 2007, 2013). That’s a tough run for a club with a loaded roster and a fanbase that routinely snaps up a bunch of tickets when their team descends in the East Bay.
During that same period the A’s have been up and more often down, but somehow successful at home against Red Sox nation. In Boston’s defense, they’ve been extremely tough on the A’s at Fenway Park during this same period, most recently taking two of three at Fenway in September 2017.
But this time, the A’s grew that roadblock placed in front of the Bosox to the dimensions of a Great Wall by shutting down the team with the hottest start to a season in the last 30 years on consecutive days. After Friday’s 7-3 win, the Red Sox were winners of nine straight, and 17-2 on the season. After Sunday’s 4-1 loss, the Red Sox had been no-hit, gone 18 innings without scoring a run, and lost two straight for the first time all season.
The 18 innings without scoring a run might be the biggest surprise, as Boston had scored 123 runs coming in, and hit five grand slams in a period of just 13 games, which concluded Friday night.
But everything changed when Sean Manaea no-hit the Sox on Saturday, and Daniel Mengden was nearly as stellar on Sunday in a 4-1 win.
“We’ve just got to ride the wave out as long as we can,” said Khris Davis, who hit a tie-breaking three-run homer in the eighth inning on Sunday. “The pitching has been fantastic. Anytime the pitching is on, we want to be putting up runs.”
After losing four of five, the A’s have won six of seven to even their record (11-11) for the first time since they were 1-1. The timing of their improved play couldn’t be any better with a big, three-city, AL West road trip starting Tuesday in Arlington, Texas. After playing a AL-high 14 home games, the improving A’s have to show they can get it done on the road too.
“5-1 is a nice homestand,” manager Bob Melvin said. “We didn’t have a great homestand to (open the season), and we’ve got a lot of road games.”
This early–with a roster this unproven–how you win is important. And the A’s have opened some eyes this week, starting with a rout of the White Sox on Tuesday in front of a full house, then gutting out a six-hour marathon Wednesday to sweep Chicago. The last two days, they’ve defeated perenial All-Star pitchers Chris Sale, and now David Price.
“It starts with us holding them down. If you look at their numbers, they’re basically first in the league in everything (offensively) so it’s holding them down and giving yourself a chance to score some runs because you know you’re not going to score too many off those two guys,” Melvin said.
After Sean Manaea stood up to Sale, who was hardly off his game, striking out 10, and walking one, on Saturday, starter Daniel Mengden outworked Price, who’s bounced back nicely from his disappointing 2017 season. Mengden pitched into the seventh, by either recording quick outs, or surviving at-bats that looked like mini-versions of Brandon Belt’s 21-pitch opus in Anaheim. To wit: Mengden started 15 of the 25 batters he faced with strikes, but expended 102 pitches to record 19 outs, despite the fact he didn’t walk anyone. A whopping 27 pitches–more than 25 percent of the total–were fouled off by the dialed in, discerning Sox, even with AL batting leader Mookie Betts getting a day off.
Despite all the rigmarole, Mengden put up zeros in the first six frames, and didn’t allow a run until the final pitch of his afternoon, an RBI double of Brock Holt’s bat in the seventh.
“What Sean did last night was remarkable. I tried to follow up as best I could,” said Mengden.
The A’s will have Trevor Cahill on the mound in Tuesday’s opener against the Rangers. Former Giant Matt Moore will start for Texas, looking to improve on his 1-3 record, and 5.59 ERA.