Irvin duels Ohtani as Laureano plays A's hero

July 20th, 2021

OAKLAND -- Most of the focus entering Monday night centered around Angels two-way star and the rock star-like buzz he carried into the Coliseum. By the end of it, A’s left-hander managed to wrestle away the spotlight.

Though Irvin lacked the flashiness of Ohtani’s stuff, he made up for it with better efficiency, which helped him outlast the All-Star righty as he tossed seven-plus scoreless innings in a 4-1 victory over the Angels. Pulled after allowing a leadoff single to Adam Eaton in the eighth, the left-hander soaked in a standing ovation from the crowd of 14,856 fans as he made his way back to the A’s dugout.

Irvin didn’t miss many bats. He finished the game with just three strikeouts and allowed at least one baserunner in all but one of his innings pitched. However, he used his aggressive style of pitching to generate contact early in counts and allowed his defense to do most of the work. Of the 22 balls put in play against Irvin, Angels hitters averaged an exit velocity of just 89.9 mph.

“You’re going into the game knowing you probably have to be really good,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Ohtani got off to a good start and pitched great. Cole matched him. He was great, and his pitch count was so good that we could pitch him really deep in the game.”

Irvin said he tries not to pay too much attention to what the starting pitcher is doing opposite him. That becomes a difficult task when that same pitcher is also batting second in the opposing lineup and is one of the game’s top sluggers. In head-to-head matchups, Irvin kept MLB’s home run leader in the ballpark, holding Ohtani 1-for-3 and producing a big strikeout against him with a runner on for the second out of the sixth inning.

“I gotta know he’s in the lineup. It’s part of my job to dissect hitters and figure out ways to get them out,” Irvin said. “He’s a fine-tuned athlete who can pitch, hit and run. I thought I handled him pretty well today.”

Before the game, Melvin laid out the pathway to overcoming Ohtani pretty simply. They either had to hope Ohtani was off his game or string together quality at-bats in order to get to the Angels’ bullpen as soon as possible. Ohtani was certainly on his game, registering eight strikeouts and holding Oakland’s hitters scoreless across six dominant innings. But the A’s ability to get his pitch count to 96 over that stretch led to him moving to right field in the seventh.

“[Ohtani] is probably going to throw around 100 pitches, at the most, so you know you have a chance to get him out of the game right there,” Melvin said. “When you get him out of the game, it feels like you scored two runs.”

Sure enough, once Ohtani was done pitching, the A’s did damage against Angels relievers with a pair of homers, including a much-needed clutch blast from a slumping .

Drawing back-to-back walks against Angels right-hander Steve Cishek to begin the bottom of the seventh, Laureano sent a jolt of energy into the A’s dugout as he blasted a hanging slider into the left-field bleachers for a three-run homer that broke a scoreless tie.

Since returning from the injured list on June 16, Laureano has struggled to regain his form, entering Monday’s game batting just .196 over his last 26 games. Launching his 14th homer of the year and first since June 22 in that situation was a feat that was only made even more impressive when you factor in that Cishek had not allowed a home run through his first 41 1/3 innings pitched this season.

“It seems like in a game like that, it might be one swing of the bat that wins a game,” Melvin said. “We’ve seen Ramón do that a lot. But I think, as far as his confidence goes, that’s going to go a long way. That’s just a huge at-bat.”

Laureano has been one of a few batters in the A’s lineup in the midst of a rough stretch at the plate. But he’s a key piece of their offense and will be counted on to perform up to his capabilities in order to make a second-half run as they look to reach the postseason for a fourth straight season. Though it was only one home run, Melvin said he was hopeful Monday’s big hit could turn into a moment that gets the A’s center fielder back on track.

“He fought his way through the at-bat until he finally got a ball he can get in the air,” Melvin said. “Hopefully, that goes a long way for him. When you’re going through a little bit of a rut, a home run like that can do wonders for you.”