The Oakland A’s Sean Murphy (right) gets a forearm bash from teammate Mitch Mooreland (left) after Murphy’s solo homer in the second inning at the Oakland Coliseum on Mon Jun 14, 2021 (AP News photo)
Los Angeles. 5. 14. 1
Oakland. 8. 9. 0
By Lewis Rubman
Monday, June 14, 2021
OAKLAND–Baseball people are fond of saying, “It’s not who you play, but when you play them.”
That certainly was the case for the Athletics as they opened their four game series against the LA Angeles tonight. The Oaklanders, at 40-27, took the field a baker’s dozen games over .500, in first place in the AL West by two games over Dusty Baker’s Double Dirty Dozen by two games.
The Angels, at 33-32, were just hint above the break even point. But both teams were 9-2 (.818) in June, which put them level with Milwaukee for the best mark in the majors so far this month. The green and gold’s hitting has improved, and the team entered the day with a collective BA of .274, which, although probably helped by the threatened crack down on illegal pitches, still is fifth in the league, all of whose hitters received the same boost.
Oakland´s pitching, too, in spite of the sporadic melt downs it’s suffered, has been excellent recently. The rotation entered the fray with the lowest ERA in the majors, 2.32, and the figure for the entire pitching staff is the second best in the league, 2.85.
The team’s run differential had improved from a pre-June minus 11 to a pleasing plus 32 so far this month. On the negative side, the A’s have been outperformed in head to head encounters with their division rivals, against whom they have gone 10-13, but they’ve beaten Los Angeles in six of their 11 meetings so far.
Sean Menaea has been a valuable contributor to Oakland’s recent surge. The 29 year old southpaw gave up a paltry two hits over the 15 innings he had hurled earlier in the month and only two runs on 16 hits in the 16-2/3 innings he pitched over his last four starts, two of which were in Anaheim in games and were no decisions (each team eventually won one them).
He threw 111 pitches in each of his last two starts, a complete game shutout in Seattle on June 2 and six frames of two hit scoreless baseball against Arizona here at the Coliseum a week later. He took the mound with a season’s record of 5-2, 3.09.
Manaea’s opposite number, right hander Dylan Bundy, took some pretty awful numbers, 1-6, 6.16, to be exact, into the game with him. From looking at Bundy’s 2021 numbers you wouldn’t think of him as a top of the rotation kind of guy, but that’s no reason not to take him seriously.
In 2011, he was, at the age of 18, the Orioles’ first round draft choice, the fourth overall. Last year, he finished ninth in the voting for the Cy Young Award in the AL, and teammates voted him the best performing pitcher on the Halos’ staff. He finished that abbreviated season with marks of 6-3, 3.29 .
While neither pitcher was at the top of his game, Bundy’s performance was frankly bad, and Manaea showed grit in holding Los Angeles to one run in his team’s 8- 5 win over the visitors.
It was Juan Lagares, hitting all of .223, who put the Angels ahead in the second inning, driving Manaea’s first pitch to him, a 91 mph sinker, over the right field scoreboard with one out and nobody on. It wasn’t as if Lagares’s round tripper, his first of the year, was the result of a single mistake by the A’s starter.
He had left the bases loaded in the first, and there were runners on the corners when he finally escaped the second without allowing another run. By then, he pitch count was up to 50.
And it was Sean Murphy, giving the lie to his BA of .208, whose seventh homer of the season put the A’s on top. It drove in Mitch Moreland, whose single to left was the thousandth hit of the A’s DH’s career. Murphy’s blast came on an 0-1 89 mph four seamer, clearing the right center field wall at the 388 foot marker.
An inning later, Tony Kemp blasted a double into the right field ccorner with Mark Canha, the human bull’s eye who’d led off the inning getting hit by a pitch, on first. Canha crossed the plate and Kemp reached third when Taylor Ward mishandled the rebound for an error.
Moments later, Olson’s sacrifice fly to right brought in Kemp, Oakland’s second tally of the frame and fourth of the game. A walk to Lowrie and Chapman’s double to left put men on second and third, and Moreland’s 1,001st hit skipped under second baseman David Fletcher’s glove, driving in both runners, giving the A’s a 6-1 advantage and ending Bundy’s short evening’s work.
James Hoyt took over but didn’t take charge. Murphy singled to left, moving Moreland up a base. After Brown forced Murphy at second, Moreland taking third, Elvis Andrus punched a single into right, bringing Moreland home. Canha, in his second plate appearance of the inning, walked to load the bases. At long last, Kemp went down swinging.
Bundy’s ugly line was seven runs, all earned, on five hits, including one hoe run, two walks, and a hit batter. He threw 59 pitches. He was credited with 38 strikes and three strike outs.
His ungainly ERA rose to 6.98, and he left the game on the hook for the loss. Hoyt hung around until he hit Sean Murphy with a pitch to open the home fifth. He was yanked in favor of Alex Claudio, who promptly surrendered a double down the left field line to Chad Pinder, hitting for Brown.
That closed the book on Hoyt, who went 1-2/3 innings and was charged with one run, which was earned, on two hits, two walks, and a hit batter. He also struck out two Athletics. He threw 40 pitches; 18 were balls.
Whenever a team bats around, there’s always a danger that its pitcher will go stale on the bench, especially if he’s been having trouble like that which Manaea had been experiencing. But Manaea, even if he didn’t keep the Angels off the bases in the fourth, kept them off the board, stranding two but not permitting anyone to cross the plate.
He lasted until there were two out in the top of the sixth, when Fletcher lashed his 104th pitch into left for a double. They say you can judge a pitcher by how well he does when he doesn’t have all of his stuff. By that standard, Manaea showed himself an ace. He held the halos to one run on nine hits, including one long ball, and issued only one passport. 40 of his offerings were balls. He deserved the victory that brought his record to 6-2, 2.99.
His replacement, Burch Smith, struck out Justin Upton in the sixth but was ineffective in the seventh, coughing up three runs on three hits, a walk, and a hit batter, getting only two outs. Sergio Romo came in to save his bacon with runners on first and second and a reduced lead of 8-4. But Romo allowed a single to Fletcher, and he was hanging on to a three run advantage when he finally struck Upton out to end the threat.
There was a certain amount of excitement in the A´s half of the seventh, when Junior Guerra, who had relieved Claudio in the sixth, hit Murphy with a pitch to open the frame, balked him to second, and then plunked Pinder before getting Andrus to fly out to right and getting Canha to hit into an around the horn DP.
Jake Diekman held the Angels at bay in the eighth, and after Guerra wiggled out of trouble in the A’s half of the inning, Lou Trivino took over, looking for his 11th save. He got it, setting the halos down in order.
Tomorrow the 15th, it will be Frankie Montas (6-6, 3.47) going against Andrew Heaney (4-3, 4.37) at 6:40.