By Morris Phillips
The A’s game notes made it very clear: the Angels weren’t likely to prevail despite being locked up with Oakland, tied 4-4 in the late innings on Sunday.
And all that statistical momentum built up by the first-place A’s didn’t even take account how poor the Angels have been in close games this season. Accordingly, Mark Canha’s sacrifice fly in the 10th inning chased home Franklin Barreto in the A’s 5-4 win at the Coliseum.
“We’ve lost that game five times this year, maybe six,” said Angels’ manager Joe Maddon. “We’ve had leads and gave them up. And I am not banging on the pitching. Overall, we pitched pretty well today. It sticks in my mind losing some games with leads late. We just have to be better at that.”
The A’s became the first American League team to 20 wins, and at 20-9, their 4 1/2 game lead over the Astros in the division looms large in a shortened, 60-game regular season. The visitors fell to 9-20, as 2020 is trending toward a major disappointment for the high-priced Angels.
The game notes produced by the perpetually tuned-in Mike Selleck before each A’s game are always filled with statistics, numerical trends and historical perspective. But when the A’s are cooking, as they are now with the second-best record in baseball, the notes can be downright intimidating for advance scouts and opposing managers.
The A’s are experiencing one of their five best starts to a season in their East Bay history, and late game proficiency and heroics are at the root of it all. The A’s are 5-0 in extra innings after Sunday, and they’ve hit 15 homers in the seventh inning or later, third best in MLB. Add to that, the Oakland bullpen, with the trio of Jake Diekman, Joakim Soria and Liam Hendriks leading the way, has 10 saves so far this month, already their largest total in August in the last 15 seasons.
Want more? The A’s are 13-4 in their home ballpark, and one of two teams (Braves) that haven’t lost this season on a Sunday, a record that improved to 5-0 on Sunday.
So when the A’s rid themselves of Angels’ starter Dylan Bundy, trailing just 4-3 in the sixth, things figured to get better in a hurry. Against the beleaguered Angels bullpen, they did.
Two pitches in, Stephen Piscotty’s RBI single off reliever Mike Mayers pulled the A’s even.
Earlier the Angels got a big three-run homer from Shohei Ohtani, who has struggled with his bat ever since he was shut down earlier this month from pitching due to forearm tightness. But their 4-2 lead would stagnant as Mike Trout, whom Angels beat writers tweeted hasn’t looked like himself lately, went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts while leadoff hitter David Fletcher and rookie number seven-hitter Jo Adell went 0 for 4 and 0 for 5 with three strikeouts respectively.
The A’s bullpen shut the door with 5 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of Frankie Montas as J.B. Wendelken, followed by the previously mentioned trio, allowed just two singles.
Hendriks managed the greater degree of difficulty in the 10th, retiring Jason Castro, Andrelton Simmons and Fletcher without letting placed baserunner Adell advance.
“They keep shutting the door with that new extra-inning rule,” Canha said of the bullpen. “When you do that, it’s huge. Going into the bottom half just having to score one takes pressure off the offense and makes the job a little bit easier.”
The A’s won for the first time without the benefit of a home run. They had homered at least once in 23 of their first 28 games. Instead, they went small–and clutch–with four, two-out RBI and five knocks with a runner in scoring position.
The A’s open a four-game set in Texas on Monday, the first leg of a 10-game trip that continues through Houston and Seattle.