Montas' gem, Pinder's slam keep A's alive

Late burst backs another dominant performance from emerging ace

September 25th, 2021

OAKLAND -- Regardless of how slim the A’s playoff hopes may be at this point, their three-game series against the Astros this weekend is largely about pride.

In a month that has seen them slowly fade further and further from a postseason berth, the last thing the A’s want is to witness the Astros celebrate clinching the American League West in their own house -- a realistic possibility over the next few days.

Perhaps releasing some frustrations coming off a disappointing four-game sweep at the hands of the Mariners, the A’s showed they still have some fight left in a 14-2 blowout victory over Houston on Friday night at the Coliseum. The win kept Oakland four games back of the Yankees for the second AL Wild Card spot.

came off the bench to deliver the dramatic blow. Pinch-hitting for Seth Brown with the bases loaded, he connected on a 1-2 slider from Brooks Raley for a grand slam. The booming no-doubt blast, which sent the crowd on hand for Fireworks Night into a frenzy, was struck 108.8 mph off the bat and sailed well up the left-field bleachers at a projected 425 feet, per Statcast.

"Today was a great game for us," said Pinder. "You could feel the energy a little bit more in our dugout and out on the field. We’ve got our work cut out for us. We just have to put our heads down and try to carry that momentum over for the weekend."

With his big hit that essentially put the game on ice for the A's, Pinder became the first A’s player to hit a pinch-hit grand slam since Scott Sizemore on Sept. 10, 2011, in a game against the Rangers in Arlington.

Though Pinder’s slam to break the game open was the climax to a six-run inning for the A’s, the most pivotal moment of that inning might have taken place a few batters prior, when Josh Harrison put together a inspiring 13-pitch battle against Yimi García. It was a plate appearance that featured nine foul balls, including two that painfully bounced off nearly the same spot on Harrison’s left shin.

On pitch No. 13, Harrison took a slider up in the zone for a walk that loaded the bases, setting up a two-run double by Starling Marte one pitch later that increased Oakland’s lead at the time to 5-2.

"That was incredible," Pinder said of Harrison’s long battle at the plate. "It was unbelievable, and honestly, a momentum-changer in itself. For him to battle like that and foul balls off his shin, that was a special at-bat, for sure."

Just as impressive as the 14-run, 14-hit night for the A’s on offense was the continued brilliance on the mound from Frankie Montas. Allowing just one earned run across seven quality innings with eight strikeouts, Montas put himself in elite company as just the fifth A’s pitcher in Oakland history to record 200 strikeouts in a season.

"That was one of my goals coming into the season," Montas said. "I told all the guys when the season started that I just want to stay healthy, go out there every five days and get 200 strikeouts. To be able to accomplish that goal is huge. I’m pretty happy right now. 

"I’ve learned from all the guys in the rotation. Now, just to be able to reach one of the goals I had in Spring Training, I’m pretty happy about that."

At exactly 200 strikeouts with at least one more start left this season, Montas has a chance to stand alone with the second-most strikeouts over a single season in the Oakland era. For now, he joins Vida Blue (301 strikeouts in 1971), Barry Zito (205 in 2001), Todd Stottlemyre (205 in 1995) and Dave Stewart (205 in 1987) as the only Oakland pitchers to reach the 200-punchout mark.

Going through his sixth big league season, Montas, 28, appears to be finally putting it all together. For most of his career, he was viewed as a flamethrower in need of fine-tuning the other part of his game. The 2021 version of Montas, who has earned the nickname of “MontACE” around the Coliseum's halls, looks to be the complete package.

Now 13-9 with a 3.48 ERA for the season, Montas might be making a late case for some AL Cy Young votes. Following Friday’s superb outing, Montas ranks tied for second in wins (13), third in innings pitched (181), fourth in strikeouts (200), fifth in ERA (3.48) and seventh in WHIP (1.19) among AL pitchers.

His electric repertoire on Friday -- which featured a fastball that maxed out at 98.8 mph -- even earned some high praise across the way from Astros manager Dusty Baker.

"This guy can pitch," Baker said. "He’s one of the best pitchers in the league. He dotted that fastball but he also fielded his position, which goes unnoticed. He saved himself tonight, not only pitching but on defense as well."

With eight games left in the regular season, the A’s might not have enough time to claw their way to a fourth consecutive postseason appearance. What they do have, though, is a possible bonafide ace for the foreseeable future in Montas, who has established himself as a pitcher with an ERA since the All-Star break that now sits at 2.33 over 13 starts.

"One of the things I’ve learned is how to use my velocity," Montas said. "I can’t go out there and try to throw 98-99 all the time or I’m going to be done by the fourth or fifth inning. I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can this season."