By Morris Phillips
OAKLAND — The first sign of something gone horribly wrong was actually the precursor to things going smoothly as usual at the Coliseum on Sunday afternoon.
A’s starter Trevor Cahill–undefeated (5-0) and extraordinarly comfortable pitching at the Coliseum–couldn’t find the strike zone, walking the first three batters he faced on just 14 pitches. After escaping a first inning disaster, Cahill was done before the end of three innings, trailing 3-0, having walked six of the 14 batters he faced, and doing so in an perversely economical 53 pitches.
“I don’t think the stuff was bad, just the command of it was not so good,” said manager Bob Melvin of Cahill’s rocky start.
But after Cahill departed, the Oakland bullpen kicked in as did the bats in a five-run, fifth inning that highlighted the A’s 7-3 win. Minus Cahill, the now familiar formula involving late offense and sting relief pitching rang true again. Are these A’s as hot as your grandmother’s A’s? Apparently so, they’ve won 53 of 74, the hottest the club has been in the last 20 years over a stretch that long.
When you’re this hot, and have this many buttons to push, a Cahill dud is quickly absorbed. And while Melvin acknowledges his club has way more answers than questions these days, it’s something that demands a discerning eye at all times.
“We were getting deeper contributions from the starters there for a while,” Melvin said. “Right now, maybe not so much, and we’re having to cover a lot of the game, but my feeling is that they’ll respond and they’ll start going deeper in games so we can cut down on the amount of relief we use.”
That Oakland resourcefulness kicked over to the offense in the fifth, when the A’s did a little of this, and took a little of that in fashioning their five-run explosion. Matt Olson and Ramon Laureno provided the explosiveness with a double each, Nick Martini’s infield hit scored a run, and then a second when Roughned Odor threw the ball away. Three other batters walked, including Matt Joyce to load the bases with two outs, and the Rangers contributed as well with Odor’s error and Ariel Jurado’s wild pitch.
The one you probably don’t focus on is the Joyce at-bat. And that ended up probably being the biggest at-bat of the inning to load the bases with two outs. If he makes an out, the inning’s over,” Melvin recounted. “A lot of guys contributed today, but Matt Joyce’s at-bat was huge.”
Like the A’s have done in recent weeks, the Rangers employed the featured reliever approach with Jurado as the guy scheduled to get the first and lengthiest relief stint. But this time, the strategy imploded as the A’s took off when Jurado entered. The A’s weren’t expecting Cahill to pitch so poorly, but Melvin quickly turned to his bullpen with seven guys making appearances after the starter departed.
The A’s have used 23 different relievers this season, and with the addition of Ryan Dull to the active roster before Sunday’s game, Melvin has 15 at his disposal currently. Blake Treinen remains the unquestioned star of relief, his one-inning stint closed Sunday’s contest, and the closer lowered his ERA to a Major League best 0.87.
Both the Yankees and Astros lost on Sunday, bringing the A’s within 2 1/2 games of both teams in their quest to host one or more playoff games.
“I think getting a home game here is very important,” said Stephen Piscotty, who homered in the seventh to provide insurance. “Get a playoff game in the Coliseum with our rowdy fans. I think that gives us a definite advantage.”