Photo credit: @Athletics
Kansas City: 0 | 4 | 1
Oakland: 1 | 5 | 0
By Lewis Rubman
OAKLAND — Last night’s thrilling come-from-behind win over Kansas City, starting with Olson’s astounding home run blast in the seventh and culminating in Hendrik’s electrifying revindication of Mondaly’s debacle in the ninth, nudged the A’s an inch or two further towards a play off berth. They entered this afternoon contest against the pesky Kansas City Royals two full games ahead of Tampa Bay, who lost last night to the Dodgers, for the home field advantage and two and a half games in front of Cleveland, whose elimination number from wild card competition stands at 11 with just that many games left to play. At game time Oakland had 10 to go. Any combination of Oakland wins and Cleveland losses of 11 or more in those 21 contests would put the A’s in the postseason, if only for a single encounter. After the game was over, they’d picked up a half a game on Cleveland, who now have an elimination number of 10 with 11 games remaining on their schedule.
Danny Duffy, the Royals’ starting pitcher is a reminder that Kansas City’s most recent glory days are not that far back in the team’s past; he pitched a half a dozen innings in the 2014 and 2015 World Series for them. So far this year, his record had been a mediocre 6-6, 4.55 ERA, and he had yet to throw a pitch against the A’s. The Oakland hitter with the best record against him was Robbie Grossman at six for 17 (.353). The A’s switch-hitter outfielder was not in the A’s opening lineup, probably owing to his .180 batting average against lefties this year.
Oakland’s starting pitcher, Homer Bailey, has ties to a less glorious time in Kansas City baseball history. He had gone 7-6, 4.80 ERA for the Royals this season when they dealt him to the A’s on July 14. Between then and the time the A’s took the verdant, recently rained upon field after a 28-minute delay caused by same light rain that had refreshed the playing surface, the veteran right hander had gone 6-2 with an ERA of 4.70, sometimes pitching very well, other times, not.
Looking at the starters’ records, you wouldn’t have anticipated how well they would perform. The once and future Royal hurlers traded shutout innings until they both had left the game. Their successors did the same until there were two men down in the bottom of the 11th inning.
Oakland threatened in their half of the fourth when Semien opened the frame with a two bagger to right center, but the A’s fell victim to the curse of the lead off double when Duffy struck out Chapman and Canha, with Olson’s fly out to deep right sandwiched between the two Ks.
It was Kansas City’s chance to threaten in the top of the seventh. With one out, Jorge Soler smacked a double to left for the Royals’ third hit. A strikeout and an intentional walk later, Ryan O’Hearn hit a sinking fly to left. Chad Pinder made a spectacular diving grab of the ball to preserve the tie.
Bailey finally left the game after the A’s went down in the seventh. He had pitched seven complete innings and yielded only three hits and an intentional walk. His strike out total was a personal season-high 11. 66 of his 95 pitches were strikes. His replacement was Yusmeiro Petit, making his league leading 76th appearance.
When Scott Barlow took over for Duffy to pitch the Oakland eighth, the Royals’ starter had gotten through seven innings, allowing just two hits and a walk on 103 pitches, 67 of which were strikes. He struck out six Oakland batters.
Barlow lasted until he yielded a two out walk to Chapman in the bottom of the ninth. Those two outs had come about on strikeouts of a pinch hitting Jurickson Profar, followed by another against Semien. It took left-handed sidearmer Tim Hill one pitch to retire Olson on a pop to short.
Jake Diekman, another ex-Royal, replaced Petit to pitch the 10th.
He stuck out the two men he faced. Then Cheslor Cuthbert was announced as a pinch hitter for Ryan O’Hearn, which brought in JB Wendelken to strike Cuthbert out on five pitches. Ah, the intricacies of lefty-righty match ups!
Monday night’s winning pitcher, Kevin McCarthy gave up two quick singles to Canha and Laureano but bounced back to fan Khris Davis and get Sean Murphy to get Laureano out at on a bounder up the middle that second base man Merrifield made a good catch of and flipped to short stop Mondesí for the force. It was cold comfort that Canha advanced to third because he died there when Grossman, facing the latest Royal reliever, grounded out short to first.
Wendelkin survived a hairy top of the 10th. Bubba Starling began it with a single to right. Meibris Viloria sacrificed him to second. Brian Phillips was out on a hard line drive to Canha in center. Mondesí walked to load the bases with two out. Then Wendelkin got Jorge Soler to swing and miss on a 1-2 slider.
Jesse Hahn was on the mound when the A’s came to bat in the bottom of the eleventh. Profar worked him for a walk. Semien went down swinging, but Profar swiped second on the strike out pitch, so the play was a functional sacrifice. Chapman took a called third strike. Now, with Olson at the plate, it was time for Kansas City to grant an intentional walk. Mark Canha, whose Hometown Hero t-shirt was the afternoon’s give away, sent a 1-2 offering from Hahn down the right field line for a walk off double.
The hard earned win went to Wendelken, bringing his season’s totals to 3-1, 3.66 ERA for his 1 1/3 innings of work. Hahn was saddled with the loss.
11 innings of excitement, played in three hours and seven minutes, under clear skies in warm weather. This is how a play off chase should be conducted.
The A’s have a day of rest tomorrow. I won’t; I’ll be writing a discussion of the state of the race for the postseason. The team returns to the Coliseum on Friday, where Mike Fiers (14-4, 4.09 ERA) will face Mike Minor (13-9, 3.33 ERA) and the Texas Rangers at 7:07 p.m.