'One of our better wins': A's start AL West stretch on high note

September 9th, 2023

ARLINGTON -- The A’s have long been phased out of the American League West race. But with a three-team battle unfolding for the top spot in the division, this rebuilding club will receive a valuable experience over the next two weeks with a chance to make life difficult for its rivals.

“We know what is in front of us,” manager Mark Kotsay said. “We want to send a message and prepare ourselves going forward for the season in front of us by running through the finish line and playing good baseball against our division opponents.”

The A’s certainly contributed to what has recently been a nightmare for the slumping Rangers. Playing the first of nine games against AL West contenders over the next 13 days, Oakland kicked off the stretch by handing Texas its fourth straight defeat in a 6-3 win on Friday night at Globe Life Field.

No team enjoys taking on the role of spoiler. Such a title means there is nothing left to play for in terms of playoff contention. However, as closer Trevor May put it last week, the A’s want to “ruin as many dreams as possible” over the final month of the season.

“Our attitude shouldn’t be ‘one month left’. It should be ‘two months left,’” said catcher Shea Langeliers, whose tiebreaking two-run home run in the sixth put the A’s ahead for good. “We want to make it to a World Series. If we do that, it’s another month after the regular season.

“Playing against playoff-contending teams at the end of the season, you’re getting to that part of the year where you’re tired and really have to take care of your body. Everybody is pushing to the end. We’re not in [playoff contention] this year, but to be in that atmosphere and feel that environment is good for us.”

It should come as no surprise that rookie sensation Zack Gelof set the tone with a play signaling that the A’s are not going to just lie down and play out the string.

After leading off the game by scorching a double that was tagged 108.5 mph off the bat against Texas starter Jordan Montgomery, Gelof ran to third on a routine groundout to first base from Ryan Noda. Noticing that Montgomery had his back turned to the plate after covering first, Gelof took advantage of the lackadaisical defense by racing around third to score Oakland’s first run.

“The guys were fired up about that,” Kotsay said. “It’s an instinctive play. We’re seeing this young man do a lot of things on the field that are baseball plays. It takes instincts, and he’s got them. To see the pitcher covering with his back turned, Zack just took off. It’s a great baseball play and it’s exciting.”

Gelof continued a history-making start to his Major League career. The double was his 27th extra-base hit in his 48th game, marking the most by an A’s player through their first 48 career games in franchise history.

Finishing with two hits, his 15 multi-hit games are also the most through 48 games by an A’s player since Jemile Weeks began his big league career with 17 in 2011.

The offense broke out with 10 hits, including homers by Langeliers and Esteury Ruiz.

This victory, though, was largely the result of an impressive collective effort by the A’s bullpen.

Following an early exit by starter Paul Blackburn, who allowed two runs on six hits and three walks with five strikeouts over three innings on 87 pitches, five A’s relievers combined to limit Texas to one run on three hits with three walks.

Two of those rookie relievers were Easton Lucas -- who made his Major League debut -- and Devin Sweet, who after getting claimed off waivers from Seattle on Sept. 6, made his A’s debut and picked up his first Major League win after taking over a 3-3 tie and delivering two scoreless innings.

“The boys were celebrating in there with [Sweet], and rightfully so,” Kotsay said. “He pitched great tonight. … A lot of good things happened tonight. It was probably one of our better wins this year. Battling with this team, staying in the game and winning late, the job that the back end of the bullpen did for us is really the story.”