TORONTO -- Rogers Centre fell silent when Shea Langeliers made contact.
The Athletics’ backstop connected with a juicy slider in the ninth, a breaking ball hung right in the middle of the zone. The crack of the bat made it obvious, as the high fly ball launched over the left-field wall for a solo homer.
As Toronto’s home crowd sat stunned, the Oakland dugout jumped up. The A's have been in an undeniable rut, losing eight consecutive games entering Friday and scoring more than three runs just once since June 12th. But, with one big swing, Langeliers earned a streak-snapping win, as Oakland beat the Blue Jays, 5-4.
"It feels good to be in the win column and we've got another opportunity tomorrow," starter James Kaprielian said.
Langeliers entered Friday’s game hitting .088 in his last 10 contests. The 25-year-old catcher has been under the ball lately, manager Mark Kotsay said, squaring around to pitches just a moment too late. So, he’s made a few tweaks in his approach, beginning his swing earlier.
In a sixth-inning at-bat against Trevor Richards on Friday, Langeliers felt it click. The Blue Jays' reliever tossed a fastball up in the zone against him, and the Oakland catcher stayed on top of the pitch, driving it out to the infield. The grounder was promptly turned for a double play, but Langeliers knew he was close to a big blast. Three innings later, he proved himself right.
"He's been working a lot on his approach and his swing, and he hasn't had a lot of success or reward from that over the last couple weeks,” Kotsay said. “In that last at-bat, he had a ball he could hit out of the ballpark, up, and took a great swing. The rest is history."
The 25-year-old’s ninth-inning homer capped off a rare offensive eruption for the Oakland bats. The A’s entered Friday last in team batting average, slugging percentage, runs scored and extra-base hits. In an attempt to take advantage of Toronto starter Chris Bassitt’s drastic platoon splits and manufacture some offense, Kotsay loaded up Oakland’s lineup with lefties. Righties hit .180 against the Toronto starter entering Friday’s game, while southpaws hit .285.
The strategy paid off instantly, as two of Oakland’s first three batters reached base to start the contest. When Bassitt challenged JJ Bleday with a cutter inside, the outfielder was all over it. Bleday turned on the pitch, spinning in the box as he launched a moon-shot missile over the right-field wall. Through three batters on Friday, the A's had more runs than outs.
"I thought the guys came out of the gate, took really good at-bats in the first inning and put up a couple runs,” Kotsay said.
Even with Oakland finishing the first inning with a 3-0 lead, the Blue Jays scratched back to a tie. The A’s have played plenty of close games this month, losing four of their last five games by a single score. So, a 4-4 ballgame in the ninth was nothing new. It's also a game they've lost often lately.
Kotsay met with the team prior to Friday’s series opener, urging the team to focus on the little things. One walk, one smooth defensive play, or taking one extra base was the difference between the one-run losses and the streak-snapping win.
Turns out, the difference was one big swing, and Langeliers delivered it on Friday.