BY RYAN LEONG
With the A’s record at the bottom of the American League standings as proof that the team isn’t going to the playoffs this year, the best course of action is to look towards the future. And the Athletics have done exactly that the past month by waiving veterans and playing rookies.
A six game homestand that started rather bleak after a three-game sweep at the hands of the Atlanta Braves ended with signs of promise as wins yesterday and today created at least a bit of momentum. The White Sox took the opener of their series on Monday but the Green and Gold bounced back with 14 runs in the final two games to close the out their home schedule before the All-Star break.
Facing a rare interleague series against the Braves, Friday’s game went to Atlanta 3-1 as hard throwing righty Mark Foltynewicz came within three outs of tossing Atlanta’s first no-hitter since Kent Mercker in 1994. More impressive, at least for the A’s, in breaking up that No-No is that Oakland has the longest active streak in the Majors of not being no-hit since 1991.
The A’s had hard fought games on both Saturday and Sunday but the end result was the same, two frustrating losses. Sunday was most difficult because the game lasted 12 innings. The A’s tied it in the 7th with a homer from Khris Davis and a sac-fly from Adam Rosales. In the 11th, Matt Kemp got the lead back for the Braves with an RBI double and Bruce Maxwell responded with a run scoring single. But in the 12th, Kurt Suzuki hit his second home run of the day for the game winner and the sweet revenge of victimizing his former team.
Monday’s July 3rd game was forgettable except for the attendance. Now that team president Dave Kaval has pulled off the upper deck tarps, the Coliseum saw its first attendance of more than 40,000 since 2005, which was the last time until this season that the upper deck was uncovered.
Tuesday finally marked the end of six straight home losses. The White Sox and A’s played home run derby with first time All-Star Yonder Alonso hitting a pair of homers. Alonso had only one home run his previous 27 games before this power surge. Alonso now has three career multi-homer games, all this season. But the big hero was rookie Franklin Barreto with his first career walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth.
Wednesday’s homestand finale was a good ending for the A’s. Sonny Gray did what is expected of a starting pitcher in today’s modern game. That is, pitch six innings and give the ball to the bullpen to do the rest. It’s formulaic but with the number of arm injuries and the strict pitch count limits, that’s the way it is these days. Gray allowed only three hits and the one mistake was a two-run homer to White Sox DH Matt Davidson. Gray walked two and struck out five as the A’s beat the Sox, 7-4.
“You get a six run lead early in the game, you want to attack their guys as much as possible,” Gray said. “They did put up a two spot right after we put up three. But after that being able to shut it back down and hand it over to the guys in the bullpen…it was nice to get a series win.”
The A’s got a two-run double from Maxwell and a two-run single from Jed Lowrie. Most impressive was veteran Rajai Davis emulating Rickey Henderson by stealing four bases. “Pitchers have got to be quicker to the plate and cognizant of him being on base,” Manager Bob Melvin said. “When Raj gets on he’s one of the premier guys in the league (stealing bases) and that’s what he can do.”
The A’s now head back on the road for a four-game series in Seattle before the All-Star break. Rookie Paul Blackburn (0-0, 0.00) gets the ball for his second career start vs. the Mariners’ Sam Gaviglio (3-3, 3.48) in the series opener on Thursday.
Ryan Leong is a San Francisco native and covers all Bay Area sports teams as a correspondent for ESPN radio and wire services. He is a former sports anchor for KCBS and has reported on over 3,600 live games since 1998.