By Morris Phillips
OAKLAND–The A’s hope Sunday’s rousing finish signals the beginning of a fourth chapter of what has been a very, complicated story to their season.
If so, the dramatic elements were present, and the timing couldn’t be any be better for an Oakland bunch that simply has been hard to figure out.
The A’s got a two-run homer from Tony Kemp in the eighth inning to break up a 1-1 tie and propel them to a series split with the Wild Card-leading Yankees with a 3-1 win. The A’s avoided a 2-7 finish to their homestand, which would have been their worst showing since 2001. Instead, they gained ground on the Yankees, Red Sox in the wild card hunt and moved to within 5 1/2 games of the Astros in the race for the AL West.
In a game dominated by pitching and defense–both scintillating and head-scratchingly poor–Kemp’s home run was only the second extra-base hit of the evening, and came one pitch after the first, a scalding double by Mark Canha that set the stage for Kemp’s heroics.
“The last thing I was trying to do was hit a home run right there,” Kemp said. “I saw a good pitch and put my best swing on it, and I think I was as surprised as everybody else was in the stands.”
After opening the season 0-6, the A’s soared to a stretch of 44 wins in 65 games, including a 13-game win streak. Since then they’re 28-32 and were a season-worst 3 1/2 games out of a playoff spot entering Sunday’s contest. To put it mildly, Sunday’s stand against the Yankees, just off their own 13-game win streak, was put up or shut up.
Both starting pitchers were outstanding. New York’s Jordan Montgomery went six innings, allowing six hits and a run on Matt Chapman’s RBI fielder’s choice ground out. Paul Blackburn put up five, scoreless innings allowing five hits and a walk while departing with a 1-0 lead.
The A’s bullpen appeared equal to the task of backing up Blackburn, but were burned by consecutive errors in the seventh. Catcher Yan Gomes dropped a foul pop between third and home that extended Anthony Rizzo’s at-bat, and allowed him to deliver a ground ball that Chapman misplayed between his legs for an error that allowed Gary Sanchez to score from second and tie the game.
The back-to-back errors came during a streak in which the A’s committed just three miscues in their last 14 games.
In the eighth, the A’s took advantage of Chad Green, the third New York reliever who gave up Canha’s double and Kemp’s home run. Reliever Deolis Guerra pitched a scoreless eighth to earn the win for the A’s.
The A’s back-to-back wins follow a stretch of six, consecutive losses and losses in 10 of 12 games. On a positive note, the stretch precedes a three-game series in Detroit that starts Tuesday, followed by a trip to Toronto and home games against the White Sox. The A’s have had success this season against AL Central opponents, which they hope continues against the Tigers and Sox.
On Tuesday, Cole Irvin is scheduled to get the start for Oakland in a matchup with Hayward-native Tarik Skubal, who has a 8-11 record on the season.