In matchup with NL goliath, A's take set in walk-off style

May 31st, 2023

OAKLAND -- Coming into this week’s three-game set between the A’s and Braves, the two clubs could not have been on more different paths.

The Braves boast a roster filled with star power, leading many to tab them as strong World Series contenders. The A’s, in stark contrast, are a club with a majority of their roster consisting of inexperienced young players who are trying to establish themselves at the highest level.

Because of the team’s rebuilding state, the development of those players takes precedence over all else. Still, winning is an essential part of that formula, and these young A’s have proven capable of hanging with one of the best teams in baseball, notching a 2-1 walk-off victory on Tuesday at the Coliseum to secure a series win over Atlanta.

It’s just the second series victory this season for the A’s and the first time since 2005 that they have won a series against the Braves. Prior to Monday, Oakland had dropped 11 straight games against Atlanta dating back to 2008.

“Winning series feels good,” manager Mark Kotsay said. “It’s something we’ve had a hard time with, obviously. Wins build confidence. As much work and preparation as these guys do, you still need that win to support that the work is paying off.”

The A’s received contributions all around Tuesday, ending with Jonah Bride’s heroics. Coming to the plate in the ninth inning of a tie game with the bases loaded against Raisel Iglesias, Bride hit a hard grounder to third that was mishandled by Austin Riley, which allowed Seth Brown to score the winning run.

For a young player like Bride, who was recalled from Triple-A Las Vegas on Monday, contributing early is important. He’s done that through two games, having also collected two hits in Monday’s victory.

“He’s a tough guy for a righty to face, so you don’t want to get deep into a count,” Bride said of Iglesias. “I saw a fastball up and was trying to hit in the air but got on top of it. Good things happen when you put it in play, and that was the case tonight.”

Seeing growth from an inexperienced pitching staff is also integral for the A’s this season. So far, JP Sears is trending upward.

In his previous outing against the Mariners, Sears worked through five innings of one-run ball on 59 pitches but was not allowed to face the Mariners’ lineup a third time through.

On Tuesday, however, after once again working through five innings with one run allowed, Kotsay showed faith in the left-hander by allowing him to face the top of Atlanta’s order a third time. Sears responded with a 1-2-3 sixth, finishing with four hits and a walk on his line with two strikeouts. He mostly shut down a potent Atlanta offense that entered the night leading MLB in batting average (.312) and home runs (33) against left-handed pitchers.

“The kid’s getting more confident,” Kotsay said of Sears. “Obviously, success leads to confidence. For JP, his focus and concentration level, you can see it from pitch one. He’s not going out there trying to survive. He’s going out there and competing with confidence.”

Sears’ strong outing capped what has been arguably the best month of his young career. In six starts over the month of May, the 27-year-old posted a 2.94 ERA with 27 strikeouts and five walks across 33 2/3 innings.

“I was not wanting to come out that last game,” Sears said. “It felt good to be out there in the sixth inning. I felt like I was ready for the seventh, but our bullpen has been so good the past couple of days. I felt comfortable handing it over to them.”

One night after Lucas Erceg delivered three perfect innings out of the A’s bullpen for his first Major League win, three relievers -- Austin Pruitt, Sam Moll and Shintaro Fujinami -- combined to hold down the Braves for another three perfect innings of relief.

For a scuffling A’s squad that has already cycled through an MLB-leading 45 players this season, winning two straight games for just the second time in 2023 against an elite club provides a much-needed boost.

“No doubt we’ve been struggling,” Sears said. “The energy has been up the past couple of days. [Kotsay] talked to us last week about taking the small victories when you get them. Guys have bought into that. Keep our heads down and not look at the outside distractions. I’m super proud of these guys and just proud to be here.”