By Morris Phillips
OAKLAND–The A’s sweep of the Orioles came with all the necessary elements: superior pitching, timely hitting and dependable defense.
But would that list accurately explain how the A’s won three games–by a combined five runs–in three days?
No way. This story starts with sorry state of affairs for the visiting Orioles and those 12 consecutive road losses.. and counting. Rarely, does one big league team catch another at its lowest point. The A’s did that when they welcomed the stumbling O’s to the Coliseum’s visiting clubhouse on Friday.
“They have an explosive offense and a great manager. You just hope they stay down while they’re here,” said manager Bob Melvin.
When the series began the A’s had their own issues, scuffling to score runs in a skid that saw four losses in five games. In response, Melvin implored his club to find its run-scoring groove earlier in ballgames. Melvin’s nudge worked Friday night when the A’s put up a four-spot in the first inning, but then his club scored twice in the next 18 innings, while going scoreless for the first 11 frames Saturday.
From Oakland’s perspective, not much change.
But it hardly mattered with the Orioles committing five errors in the series, scoring one run over the final 24 innings of the weekend, and looking defeated before they actually lost.
What’s wrong with the Orioles? Well to start, just about everything. They entered the year in a rebuilding phase, unable to go any further with a roster clearly inferior to AL East rivals Boston and New York, and things got worse from there. After Sunday, they’re a major league worst 8-26, hitting just .220 as a team, and they can’t catch or throw. Their 26 errors in 34 games ranks second-worst in the American League.
“We’ve got to man up, grow up, start playing better. Period. No ands, ifs or buts about it. We’ve just got to play better. We’re just not good enough right now,” said Orioles’ catcher Caleb Joseph.
On Sunday, veteran outfielders Adam Jones and Trey Mancini were late scratches, and platoon guys, CF Adam Gentry and 3B Pedro Alvarez, were in the Baltimore lineup but scuffling in one way or another. A’s starter Andrew Triggs, possibly still smarting from his unceremonious release from the Baltimore organization in March 2016, took it from there.
Triggs pitched seven, strong innings allowing two hits and striking out a season-high nine. The A’s pushed across a pair of runs in the fourth, and made them stand up in a 2-1 win. The Orioles threatened in the ninth, with a runner at third and one out, but closer Blake Treinen shut the door, getting Jace Peterson to ground out to second with the infield playing in. Then after intentionally walking Manny Machado, Treinen retired Chris Davis on a fly out to end it.
Standing near the game’s summary–as in foul territory adjacent to the diamond–was the story behind the story of how this game was won involving Triggs and Alvarez. In the spring of 2016, the then 29-year old Alvarez was a free agent, after he was non-tendered by the Pirates despite hitting 27 homers and appearing in 150 games for Pittsburgh in 2015.
When Alvarez drew little interest on the free agent market likely due to him averaging 177 strikeouts per season over his six full big league seasons, and being a below average defender at first and third base, the Orioles entertained the idea of signing the slugger and playing him in right field.
At the same time, Triggs had established himself as a minor league standout in the Baltimore organization, saving 17 games as a closer for Double-A Bowie while compiling a microscopic 1.03 ERA. That prompted the Orioles to add Triggs to their 40-man roster after the 2015 season, to prevent some team from poaching the right-handed prospect via the Rule 5 draft.
But when the Orioles agreed to a one-year deal with Alvarez for a price-friendly $5.75 million for one year, plus incentives, Triggs was released to make room for Alvarez on the 40-man roster. Soon thereafter, Triggs signed with the A’s.
Fast forward two years to Sunday, and what transpires? Alvarez hits a home run off Triggs in the second inning, but it’s the only run the A’s pitcher allows. Two innings later, Alvarez–playing third base despite his error-laden history–bobbles a throw from pitcher Alex Cobb, then recovers, only to make an errant throw to second base that ends up in right field. That allows two A’s baserunners to advance a base. The baserunners–Mark Canha and Matt Joyce–end up scoring the tying and eventual game-winning runs later in that inning.
The A’s moved a season-best, two games over .500 with the win.
On Monday, the A’s get a much stiffer challenge from the AL West-leading Astros at 7:05 p.m. Brett Anderson gets the start for the A’s, Dallas Keuchel for the Astros.