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Even down 5 in 7th, A's 'never feel out of it'

@MartinJGallegos
September 5, 2019

OAKLAND -- After falling behind early against the Angels on Thursday, it would have been easy for the A’s to sit back and be content knowing the series victory was already in hand. But with time ticking away on the regular season, every win in a playoff race is precious,

OAKLAND -- After falling behind early against the Angels on Thursday, it would have been easy for the A’s to sit back and be content knowing the series victory was already in hand. But with time ticking away on the regular season, every win in a playoff race is precious, and the A’s found a way to dig one out.

Robbie Grossman’s pinch-hit two-run triple capped off a seven-run seventh inning to help the A’s overcome a five-run deficit and rally for a 10-6 victory that completed a three-game sweep of the Halos at the Coliseum. The win moved Oakland a full game ahead of Cleveland for the second American League Wild Card spot.

Box score

“I think that’s just the mentality of this team. We’re never out of it,” Grossman said. “How many times this season has something like that occurred? This team is confident and we never feel out of it.”

When Grossman’s triple off Adalberto Mejia sailed over a leaping Mike Trout near the wall in center field, it sent the crowd of 14,013 into a frenzy, something that seemed improbable after the A’s entered the frame trailing by five runs. It was an inning that saw 11 batters come to the plate, sparked by Josh Phegley’s two-run blast off Jose Suarez before the A’s later strung together four straight walks, two of those coming with the bases loaded.

“When we’re at our best, we hit home runs and make pitchers work hard. Draw walks and pass the baton to the next guy,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “It played out in that inning after it didn’t feel great for a while. We never really have a feeling in our dugout like it might not work out for us. It was a little sluggish for a bit, and then they turned it on like they tend to do late in games.”

In a game full of tough jobs, pinch-hitting might be the toughest task for a ballplayer. But the A’s have found major success coming off the bench, now 23-for-81 in pinch-hit situations with seven doubles, one triple, five home runs and 25 RBIs. The 13 extra-base hits by pinch-hitters are tied for the most in Oakland history (1968) over a single season.

Grossman has actually felt quite comfortable in the pinch-hit role, with Thursday’s triple his fifth pinch-hit of the year in 16 at-bats. There’s no secret formula for thriving in those situations, but Grossman said it helps when you’re aggressive, which was the case as he jumped on a first-pitch fastball down the middle. Also helping Grossman in that spot was the fact that he was teammates with Mejia on the Twins from 2016-18.

“I know what he’s about and what he likes to do,” Grossman said of Mejia. “Pinch-hitting, you have to be aggressive early. You’re sitting on the bench the whole game and have to see where you’re at on the first pitch. I put a good swing on it and luckily Mr. Trout didn’t catch it.”

The comeback overcame a shaky performance from starter Brett Anderson, who was hit around by the Angels for five runs over five innings, including Trout’s monster two-run homer to dead center in the third that traveled an estimated 455 feet per Statcast, which is the second-longest homer hit at the Coliseum this year.

Down Yusmeiro Petit and All-Star closer Liam Hendriks, the A’s relied on A.J. Puk, Ryan Buchter, Lou Trivino and Jake Diekman to finish off the victory. Puk, the A’s No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, earned his first big league win after holding the Angels to one run over two innings in what was just his fourth career appearance in the Majors and first since Aug. 26.

“It’s definitely cool getting that first win,” Puk said. “I wish I didn’t give up the homer, but I held them down and the offense did their job and got the win.”

After being limited to just his fastball and slider over his first three outings, Puk integrated the curveball and changeup into his arsenal on Thursday. He threw 18 of his 26 pitches for strikes, six of those swinging, and recorded two punchouts.

“He’s starting to throw all his pitches, which is key for him,” Melvin said. “When you go out with a limited arsenal and you’re counted on without all your weapons, it’s hard. We’ve worked through this to where he can throw all his pitches now and it certainly showed up. He can make guys look bad.”

Finish what you started

The A’s welcome the Tigers for the start of a three-game series on Friday night. But before the series opener gets underway, the two clubs will complete a suspended game from May 19 that will resume Friday afternoon at 5:15 p.m. PT in the bottom of the seventh with the A's already leading, 5-3.

Martin Gallegos covers the A's for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @MartinJGallegos.