By Morris Phillips
That splashy new closer/setup man the A’s are shopping for in the trade deadline buyer’s market, they could have found a big spot for him Sunday at Target Field.
The A’s showed up fashionably late offensively–imagine the Oakland starting lineup taking in a trendsetter’s Sunday brunch at 4Bells in nearby Minneapolis Loring Park before venturing to the park, perhaps–scoring for the first time in the fifth inning, then never letting up. Trailing 4-0 in the fifth, the A’s scored in four consecutive innings, to take their first lead in the eighth, 6-5.
Then they carried the lead into the bottom of the ninth, and Bob Melvin summoned his All-Star closer Liam Hendriks to get the last three outs.
But not so fast. The A’s were tempting fate by frustrating the Twins’ home crowd, assuming a lead in the seventh inning or later for the third straight day. Not to mention the Twins’ hitters, who are threatening to become the first team to hit 300 home runs in a season, obliterating the Major League record, and the team as a whole, feeling pressure in the NL Central standings for the first time all season, and desperate to avoid a third straight, deflating loss at home.
“We have been playing good games but have been losing a couple of them,” said Max Kepler. “Teams have been coming back on us.”
And the pressure on Hendriks–who’s been lights out in a streak of 20 plus innings without allowing a run–couldn’t be discounted. The 30-year old Australian has thrown 460 innings at the big league level over nine seasons, but only has nine saves, eight of them since June 22, when he vibrantly morphed into an elite reliever. In fact, Twins’ fans remember Hendriks as a 23-year old free agent pickup who gave up 17 home runs in 16 starts and went 1-8 with a 5.59 ERA in 2012, his second of three seasons in Minneapolis.
A’s fans? They best know Hendriks as a forefather in the opener movement with eight starts in that role in 2018.
But Melvin embraced Hendriks last month, watched him run at world record speed in his new role, and gave little hesitation to tabbing him to close the door for a third, consecutive day for the first time in his career.
Melvin gave little consideration before–or after Hendriks allowed a game-tying triple to Ehire Adrianza, and a game-winning single to Kepler.
“They hit some good pitches,” said Melvin. “His stuff was no different today than any other day. At some point in time, he was probably going to blow one. It’s kind of the nature of the game.”
“These guys worked their tails off today, and I couldn’t bring it home. It’s disappointing in that regard,” Hendriks admitted.
The A’s blew a chance to remain within 5 1/2 games of the division-leading Astros with a three-game set in Houston starting on Monday. And their lead in the wild card race shrunk to one game over the Rays, and three games over the Red Sox.
So it’s just one game lost, but could it become more?
The organization’s thought process one the closer’s role is more complicated now given setup man Lou Trivino and former closer Blake Treinen are once again healthy and available. Not to mention whoever is acquired in the coming days as many assume the A’s will attempt to bolster their bullpen much like they did last season.
Remember last year’s post season push, and GM David Forst’s belief? One closer’s great, but why not have two or three? Well if that’s the case, the A’s have 10 days to make some decisions that could define their season. If the A’s add on, none of the candidates–Hendriks included–gets handed the task of a third save in three days again this season.
On Monday in Houston, Homer Bailey makes his second start as an Athletic, and Gerrit Cole goes for the Astros. This will be the first of 11 remaining meetings between the two contenders, but so far it’s been all Houston. The Astros have captured seven of the first eight meetings in 2019.