OAKLAND – The team that owns the Majors’ worst record is playing with a swagger that is 100% justified. The A’s are rolling, and even the squad with MLB’s best record could not stop them Monday night.
The A’s rode a five-game win streak back to Oakland and then made it six in a row with a 4-3 victory over the Rays, who top the Majors with a 48-21 mark.
Such an outcome might have seemed unthinkable two months ago when the A’s got swept on the road against the Rays by a combined 31-5, including two shutouts, which helped propel both teams to their divergent trajectories.
“We played them early, and, for lack of a better word, I think we were somewhat embarrassed,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said. “We played really bad baseball. We failed in every aspect in Tampa: pitching, defense, situational hitting.”
Asked before Monday’s game if he thought the 5-1 trip to Pittsburgh and Milwaukee raised his players’ confidence heading into the three-game rematch against the Rays, Kotsay said, “I think it helps, no question.”
The A’s then played like a first-place team to earn the club’s longest win streak since 2021.
Rookie Ken Waldichuk relieved Kaprielian and finished the game. He not only allowed the rest of a weary bullpen a night off, he earned a rather historic first Major League save, becoming the first A’s pitcher since Elias Sosa in 1978 to save a one-run game with three or more innings pitched.
Had the A’s continued losing in Pittsburgh and Milwaukee instead of dominating the top two teams in the National League Central, they might have tiptoed into their series against Tampa Bay apprehensively.
Instead, they squared their shoulders and welcomed the challenge
“When you’re hot, it’s exciting to duke up against guys who are good and guys who are winning games,” Kaprielian said. “You want to beat the best at all times.”
Langeliers said the aura surrounding the team is completely different than it was in St. Petersburg in April.
“When we went to Tampa, we were in a rough stretch and struggling,” he said. “It’s hard to show up every day and keep going when it feels like everything is going against you, nothing’s going your way.”
Now, Langeliers said: “I think the team chemistry, the camaraderie, is off the charts. We’re having fun playing. And when you’re having fun playing baseball, for the most part, you’re going to have success doing it, too.”
Kotsay was hoping to get the final three innings from Waldichuk, who opened the season as a starter, but the manager also was prepared to use a pair of short relievers. The lefty earned his first save since he pitched for nearby St. Mary’s College, against UC Santa Barbara.
“I came into a one-run game and we put up nine runs, so it was a 10-run save,” Waldichuk recalled, smiling.
This save got tough when Waldichuk put the potential tying and go-ahead runs on base in the seventh inning. But he struck out Randy Arozarena, one of the Majors’ most dangerous hitters, to preserve the 4-3 lead. The pitcher was pumped, and so were his mates.
“That was big,” Waldichuk said. “You felt the team kind of rise, and their energy kind of carried me through the rest of that outing.”
Waldichuk retired all six hitters he faced in the eighth and ninth, including consecutive strikeouts of Manuel Margot, Siri and Taylor Walls.
The A’s thus earned their sixth win in June, one more than they had in April and matching their total for May.