OAKLAND -- When Liam Hendriks pumped his right fist in the air and let out a roar after watching Aaron Judge swing through a 2-2 slider for strike three, redemption was in the air Wednesday night at the Coliseum.
There was something extra going into the at-bat between Hendriks and Judge. The last time those two had faced off, Judge sent a ball deep into Yankee Stadium’s left-field bleachers in the 2018 American League Wild Card Game. But this time, it was Hendriks coming out on top. The right-hander punched out Judge to strand runners at the corners and end the eighth before finishing off a five-out save to secure a 6-4 win over the Yankees. The win kept the A’s in a tie for the second AL Wild Card and was the 1,200th of A’s manager Bob Melvin’s career.
“I’m assuming they replayed the home run while I was pitching, so that’s always fun,” Hendriks said. “You know who [Judge] is and what he’s been able to do, but it’s still a guy with a bat. My job is to get him out. I try not to look too much at who’s up, because that can get me into trouble.”
The strikeout of Judge came right after Hendriks set down DJ LeMahieu swinging on that same slider, but there wasn’t much time to celebrate. Hendriks had to collect himself in the dugout before heading out for the ninth, where the heart of the Yankees' lineup awaited.
Perhaps carrying over some of the adrenaline from getting out of that big spot in the eighth, Hendriks was once again lights-out in the ninth. He threw seven pitches, all fastballs, and retired the side in order, with a groundout to short by Didi Gregorius finishing off his 15th save of the year. In all, the righty managed to retire the Yankees’ top five hitters in order, three via strikeout.
“Coming in against the one through five of the New York Yankees is not the easiest task,” Hendriks said. “Getting the five-out save is not the usual, but I went nine outs early in the year. It’s not something I shy away from.”
In the long list of players to lead the A's late-season charge -- now a season-best 20 games above .500 -- Hendriks ranks at the top. Taking over the closer role for a struggling Blake Treinen on June 22, Hendriks has brought stability to the end of games.
“What he’s meant to this team this year and the acceleration from his role where he was last year all the way until this year has just been amazing,” Melvin said. “Usually, you lean on a guy for an inning. That might have been his best outing of the year.”
In his time as the A’s closer, Hendriks has racked up 42 strikeouts over 24 innings, posting a 1.50 ERA.
“He’s done that a lot of times where he’s had to get more than three outs,” A’s starting pitcher Mike Fiers said. “He’s been a blessing for us. A couple of guys struggling early on, and he’s stepped up to do what he’s been doing. It’s why we’re in this spot.”
Hendriks was in position to secure the win thanks to another impressive display of power from the A’s offense.
Khris Davis and Marcus Semien each mashed two-run homers off Yankees starter J.A. Happ. Stephen Piscotty also homered in the 6th off Chad Green.
For Davis, it was his 18th of the year and first since July 30 as he snapped an 0-for-17 slump. Davis entered the night batting .185 with one home run in his previous 44 games.
“He needed that. He’s been grinding hard,” Melvin said. “He takes this pretty seriously and has been so instrumental for this team. As consistent a power hitter as we’ve ever had around here. It’s weighing on him. It hurts. He wants to hit middle of the order and do what he normally does.”
Puk electric in debut
When top prospect A.J. Puk was called up on Tuesday, Melvin told reporters he was not going to be afraid to put the left-hander in a tough spot. The manger stayed true to his word.
Melvin made the call for Puk to begin the eighth, inserting him into a high-leverage situation with the A’s holding a two-run lead. His fastball was as good as advertised, reaching as high as 99.5 mph on the stadium radar gun, but Puk was unable to finish the inning as he recorded one out in between issuing a leadoff walk to Mike Tauchman and allowing a single to Mike Ford. The out came on a fantastic sliding catch from Jurickson Profar to retire Cameron Maybin.
“My heartbeat was racing. I was trying my best to calm it down,” Puk said. “I walked the leadoff guy, that can’t happen. But it’s the first one. It’s out of the way.
“It was a special moment. My family was in town and they were able to see me throw in the Major Leagues. Just great all around.”
It wasn’t the ideal outing for Puk, but his ERA in the Majors remained clean thanks to Hendriks’ escape job.
“That was huge. He cleaned up my mess I left him with,” Puk said. “I wish I would have pitched a little bit better, but it’s all right.”
“It was definitely pretty cool. I remember my first time,” Fiers said. “Just a great experience for him. He’s definitely going to be really good.”
Puk threw 11 pitches, 10 of which were fastballs. But this one was different from your average heater.
“Watching him out there is something special,” Hendriks said. “There’s a little bit of extra sizzle on the ball. It’s going to be special.”