NEW YORK -- The A’s have been making an aggressive push to bring more attention to Matt Olson’s All-Star worthiness after he ranked seventh among American League first basemen in voting earlier this week. Given the chance to perform on a big stage on Friday night, Olson made his own push.
In Oakland’s 5-3 victory over the Yankees, Olson got the A’s on the board early by launching a solo shot to right off Jameson Taillon that landed in the second deck of Yankee Stadium. The first-inning blast brought Olson’s home run total to 19 on the year, which was tied with Angels star Shohei Ohtani for second-most in the AL before Ohtani went deep later Friday night.
“You can’t say enough things about what Matt Olson is doing right now,” A’s left fielder Tony Kemp said. “He’s definitely an All-Star. He’s one of those guys that you feed off his energy. To get it going in the first inning like that just gives you chills. He’s been doing that type of stuff all year.”
Watching Olson supply him a one-run lead before he even took the mound, right-hander James Kaprielian said he got to wondering how many homers Olson might accumulate if he were to play the majority of his home games in a hitter-friendly ballpark like New York’s rather than the spacious grounds of the Oakland Coliseum. But with 19 big flies in 65 games, Olson is on pace for 43 after Friday’s blast, which would be a career high.
Between the Gold Glove defense Olson brings and the impressive offensive numbers -- he ranks third in batting average (.295) and second in slugging percentage (.607) and OPS (.982) among AL first basemen -- Olson’s All-Star candidacy is a no-brainer for Kaprielian.
“He’s a no-doubt All-Star, and I think everyone is starting to see that, if they haven’t already,” Kaprielian said. “He’s got one of the sweetest swings in baseball. If he was playing here year-round, he’d probably have 50 home runs. That short porch in right field is going to be good to him this series. I think we’re going to see a lot more of that.”
Supported with another run in the third on Mark Canha’s RBI single, the rookie Kaprielian -- who was selected 16th overall by the Yankees in the 2015 MLB Draft -- impressed in his first career start under the bright lights in the Bronx. Striking out four of the first five batters he faced, the right-hander really only made a couple of mistakes on a night in which he finished with just three hits allowed and seven punchouts through 5 2/3 innings.
The only issue was that both of his mistakes resulted in homers allowed to DJ LeMahieu and Rougned Odor, with Odor’s solo shot in the fifth giving the Yankees a 3-2 lead.
It didn’t take long for the A’s to take back the lead, though. Mounting a two-out rally in the sixth with back-to-back singles by Matt Chapman and Sean Murphy, it was 5-foot-6 Kemp who came up with the largest hit of the night. Battling an early 0-2 count against left-hander Wandy Peralta, the lefty-hitting Kemp deposited a 2-2 slider left over the middle of the plate well over the short porch in right field.
Entering the season in a backup role, Kemp has seized more playing time with his hot hitting over the past month. Dating back to May 8, he’s now batting .317 (26-for-82) with six doubles, two triples, three homers and 15 RBIs over 29 games.
“I was pretty gassed up when Tony hit that,” Kaprielian said. “Tony is bringing that energy. It’s fun to have him on this team. He hit that big home run to pick me and the team up when we really needed it. This team, all the way through, has guys throughout the lineup who can do damage.”
With one swing of the bat, Kemp silenced a raucous crowd of 24,037 fans in attendance for the first full-capacity game at Yankee Stadium since the 2019 postseason. The only notable noise as Kemp rounded the bases emanated from the A’s dugout, where his teammates erupted in elation after watching the ball sail over the wall to put them ahead for good in a win that pushed their winning streak to seven games and a season-high 17 games over .500 (44-27).
“This is just a fun place to play,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Our guys were in a pretty good mood in batting practice after having a day off. We’ve been winning some games, so a big hit like that, it can set the dugout off a little bit.”