OAKLAND -- The Coliseum has seen plenty of monstrous power displays in its 52 Major League seasons. But what took place on Thursday night is unprecedented.
Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire bashed countless home runs in that stadium. Before those two, it was the Mustache Gang. But on a night the A’s outlasted the Astros for a 7-6 victory, it was Matt Chapman and Matt Olson -- the Two Matts -- who led the charge in a game that saw the two clubs combine for 10 home runs, the most ever in a game at the Coliseum.
“Not for a long time. Maybe never,” Chapman said when asked if he’d ever been part of such homer-crazed game. “My only guess would be one of the games in the California League, where the ball just flies. That was pretty cool. I’ve never seen the ball carry like that here.”
Four players turned in multi-homer efforts, Chapman and Olson included, marking just the fifth time since 1908 that has happened in a game. The types of homers ranged anywhere from Chapman’s no-doubt solo shot off Astros starter Aaron Sanchez in the sixth, which traveled well up into the left-field bleachers at an estimated 453 feet, per Statcast, to qualify as the longest homer hit by an A’s player this season, to Olson’s opposite-field three-run blast in the fourth, which barely scraped over the high wall in left-center.
The Coliseum is notorious for being a tough park to hit one out, especially at night, when the marine layer tends to cause fly balls to die out. But on a warm August afternoon that saw first pitch temperature rise to an unusual 82 degrees in the Bay Area, the Coliseum was transformed into a hitter’s paradise.
“I honestly haven’t seen it fly like that,” Olson said. “I will say a lot of those are still getting out. I wouldn’t say mine to left-center gets out on a normal Oakland night, but that was awesome to see it fly. I saw in batting practice how it was flying, but it’s real hit or miss here. Glad it was carrying.”
The A’s and Astros went blow for blow, each delivering their best shots before receiving the other’s retaliation. After Blake Treinen surrendered a game-tying solo homer in the eighth to Michael Brantley, who also homered twice, Chapman came right back and delivered the knockout punch.
His solo blast off Astros reliever Chris Devenski put the A’s ahead for good.
“The dramatics,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He seems to come up with his best work when the game is on the line. That’s what your best players do.”
If there is such a thing as a clutch gene, Chapman certainly has it. Of his 29 homers this season, 15 have been of the go-ahead variety, including the two he hit on Thursday, joining reigning National League MVP Christian Yelich in a tie for most in the Majors.
Throughout his entire career, Chapman said he struggled to perform in those big moments perhaps due to overthinking at the plate. This year, he’s been able to simplify things.
“Just trying to not think about it too much,” Chapman said. “I feel like I used to think about those moments a lot and put pressure on myself. I just try not to put pressure on myself now, which is easier said than done, but it’s been working out.”
Chapman has now homered twice in each of his past two games, and he extended his hitting streak to six games. This comes after a rough patch that saw him go 2-for-47 over his previous 13 games.
“He’s hitting the mistakes,” Olson said. “Pitchers on the other side feel the pressure in the situation, too. You have to be able to take advantage of the mistakes made, and he’s done that a lot this year.”
The A’s started this four-game series 9 1/2 games back of Houston for the American League West lead. Many would say the A’s would be better off focusing on the Wild Card, which they are now 1 1/2 games back of the second spot. But scheduled to play seven more games against the Astros, the A’s feel they can make one more push for the division. Such a thrilling win as Thursday’s, one that featured multiple momentum shifts in a postseason-like atmosphere, is a good start.
“It feels like that kind of game, a playoff game,” Chapman said. “That’s a really good team we respect and want to beat. This is the Astros’ division until somebody knocks them off. To take the first game of the series like that is huge.”
Joseph’s HR 12 years in the making
Chapman’s home run may have been the most important, but none had more of a special meaning than Corban Joseph's.
Spending the majority of his 12-year professional baseball career in the Minors, Joseph is finally getting his first shot at regular playing time with the A’s. In the fourth, he drilled his first big league home run, a solo shot off Sanchez that was blasted off the bat with a 105.2 mph exit velocity, per Statcast, and traveled over the wall in center for an estimated 424 feet.
“The guys have really embraced him here,” Melvin said. “He really earned his way here after a long time and the year he was putting together. He gets his first home run tonight. That ball was stroked, and it looks like he’s playing with a lot of confidence. Good call getting him here.”
The second baseman couldn’t recall much from the experience due to temporarily “blacking out” as he rounded the bases.
“It’s kind of a relief, to be honest,” said Joseph, who was playing in his 18th career Major League game. “It almost seems like every time I’ve gotten an at-bat, it was off a closer late in the game. To actually get a couple of AB’s, I was able to relax. The crowd woke me up a little bit. I was just really excited to be part of a big win.”