By Matthew Harrington
OAKLAND, Calif. — A note inscribed next to the Oakland Athletics line-up card posted this afternoon stated “Home runs can be rally killers”. After a 10-0 routing of the Detroit Tigers the A’s may have reason to rethink that mantra.
“Homers can be rally killers,” said A’s catcher Derek Norris. “But when you’re hitting four or five of them a game they can probably make a different statement. That’s more for the solo home runs. Anytime you can scratch off two, three grand slam home runs, those are hardly rally killers. That’s how you bury a team.”
The A’s (31-20) did just that, outmuscling the visiting Tigers (28-19) in a Memorial Day matinee at the O.Co coliseum capped by Derek Norris’ first career grand slam. Five different Athletics homered, including four solo shots off Tigers starter Drew Smyly (2-3, 3.86 ERA) to snap a four-game losing skid. A’s starter Tommy Milone (3-3, 3.50) turned in a brilliant performance, going 6 2/3 innings without surrendering a run against a potent Tiger offense that tops the junior circuit with a .278 team batting average.
“Zero runs, that’s always a good day,” said Milone. “I’ve got to give it to my defense and obviously the offense. They backed me up today.”
Milone threw an economical 105 pitches, needing more than 20 pitches in an inning only once to retire the side, yielding a scant four hits to the visitors. The lefty collected six K’s, one shy of a season-high, while only issuing two walks. Andrew Romine and reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera represented the lone Tigers hitters to reach second base Monday afternoon, each doubling off Milone. The A’s starter now has three wins in four starts after dropping three-straight decisions over his first five appearances.
“I think he was just trying to do too much,” said battery mate Norris. “He was trying to create stuff that wasn’t there. Finally I said to just sit back and throw the baseball just like you know how. His focus has been higher, his determination has been higher. He’s been attacking hitters and not shying away from contact.”
Brandon Moss opened the long ball barrage, leading off the second inning with a deep blast to right center that Austin Jackson nearly scaled the wall to steal. Moss’ extra-base hit marks his 18th of the month, tying an A’s record with Jason Giambi (2001) for most in May. Two batters later, designated hitter Blanks took Smyly yard on a 2-1 offering to make it 2-0 Oakland.
“There are very few guys on this ball club that are trying to hit home runs,” said Norris. “You look at some of the guys like Moss and (Josh) Donaldson, they’ve literally shaped their swings to try to become fly ball hitters and have home run swings. It’s definitely an art that not everyone can grasp.”
For Blanks, it was the first home run hit as a member of the Athletics after coming over in a May 15th trade with the San Diego Padres. Blanks’ last Major League round-tripper came 49 games ago on June 16, 2013. He also spent some time in the minors with the Padres since then.
“It makes him feel like a part of the team that much quicker when you get into a game like that,” said manager Bob Melvin. “You’re scoring runs with homers. It really gets you feeling like ‘Hey, I’m a part of this team’.”
Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes added back-to-back solo blasts off Smyly in the bottom of the third for a 4-0 edge. The twin displays of power marked the second time this season consecutive batters have homered, with Cespedes and Moss achieving the feat May 9th. The A’s made it a six-pack in the fourth after Coco Crisp hit a bases-loaded sacrifice fly and Josh Donaldson hit a run-scoring two-out single off Smyly. In total, the Tigers starter went five innings while allowing six runs, all earned, to accompany two walks and a trio of strikeouts.
Norris brought the scoring into double digits, launching his first career grand slam to deep center field off reliever Phil Coke in the Oakland half of the 8th. Blanks opened the inning by drawing a walk, moved to second when Craig Gentry was awarded first base on catcher’s interference. Crisp reached base on an error to load the bases for the Oakland backstop.
“I hit the ball hard a couple times earlier and came away with nothing,” said the A’s catcher after going 0-4 heading into his 8th inning at-bat. “I was just trying to get the RBI. I was trying to get something out over the plate. Fortunately it just came back over the middle and I put a good swing on it.”
Dan Otero and Sean Doolittle pitched 2 and 1/3 innings of perfect relief to finish off the drubbing of Detroit, the team that bounced Oakland from the playoffs in 2012 and 2013. The reeling Tigers now have lost seven of their last eight, but send 2013 Cy Young winner Max Scherzer to the mound to play stopper Tuesday night. The A’s will counter with ace Sonny Gray.
“Sonny’s always pumped,” said Norris when asked if there was any extra motivation for the young A’s starter facing a familiar playoff foe. “He’s 100 percent determined every fifth day. He’s on it, he’s focused. He’s ready.”