BY STEVEN LUKE
When your starter doesn’t have his best stuff you’ve got to battle to win, and that’s what both the A’s and Los Angeles Angels did on Thursday in Oakland. It wasn’t the Opening Day sell out you get at most stadiums, but the 27,764 fans in attendance often sounded like a full house and the two teams did not disappoint. The A’s and Angels combined for five home runs and some extra inning drama before Oakland ended it in the 11th with a walk off win.
The A’s got their bats going early, but couldn’t push across runs and found themselves in a hole after the Angels scored in the second, fourth and fifth innings led by home runs by Kole Calhoun and Zack Cozart. “We’re down four and their guy is going pretty good, then next thing you know it’s 4-4,” A’s Manager Bob Melvin said. “The guys fought for 27 for sure, more than that.”
The bottom of the fifth is when the A’s found a rhythm and the power that led the team in 2017 showed up. It started when Matt Joyce worked a walk and Marcus Semien followed it up with one of his own. After Jed Lowrie struck out Khris Davis came up to bat with two on and two out and showed the world that Spring Training is “training” for a reason.
“Everyone was worried about K.D. and then the bell rings and he does his thing,” Melvin said.
Two seasons ago Davis was virtually the only power threat in the lineup, but in 2018 he’s not alone and Matt Olson showed that in the next at bat following up with a home run on his 24th birthday. “Is it surprising when Oly (Olson) hits a home run ? No. We’re getting used to that,” Melvin said.
Up to that point Garrett Richards had put up four innings of shutout ball. When he did finally make a mistake, though, A’s batters were ready. “That’s a tough customer on the mound (Richards) for them that we did damage to in the 4-5 spots to tie the game up,” Melvin said. “You might get one good pitch off of him and both of those guys waited for the right one to hit.”
The tie wouldn’t last long as Albert Pujols ended the day for Graveman as the first batter of the sixth inning with a blast to left field, the 615th home run of his career. “He (Pujols) has a good idea, I mean he’s been doing it for a long time,” Graveman said. “I didn’t execute all of my pitches and those pitches got hit hard today.”
Davis would strike again in the seventh and erase the lead with an RBI single to tie the game. Then the bullpens for both teams shut it down. “Those guys came in and shut the door,” Graveman said. “There were some big situations in that ball game that we could’ve let get away. (Blake) Treinen coming in and going two innings and Hatcher making a big pitch to Trout, the list goes on-and-on.”
In the bottom of the 11th the A’s would finally break through against the Angels bullpen. With one out in the inning Boog Powell, who didn’t know he made the roster until the last game of Spring Training, came up to bat and hit a triple over the head of Justin Upton in left field. “As soon as I hit it and as soon as I saw it on the ground I knew,” Powell said about going to third. The Angels then walked Matt Joyce and brought in an extra infielder, something Angels Manager Mike Scioscia has done in the past, to face Marcus Semien.
“A runner on third with less than two outs you want to get it out there (to the outfield),” Semien said. “It’s even more incentive when there’s no one in center and you can get a hit out of it and a for sure run.” Get it out there is what Semien did. He dropped a single right into centerfield between the two outfielders for the walk off win, the first of his career.
NOTES: Chapman wowed the crowd with his play at third including a catch leaning over the tarp that brought back memories of the catch that led to the Josh Donaldson’s bobble head when he was with the A’s.
Stephen Piscotty made his debut in Green and Gold, the team he grew up rooting for, and had a forgettable day going 0-4 with a walk in the tenth.
The Athletics celebrated birthdays today from the top of the organization down. Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Billy Beane, utility infielder Chad Pinder and Olson all celebrated on Opening Day.
Shohei Ohtani made his MLB debut for the Angels after coming over from Japan in the offseason and impressed with his bat and his speed. He slapped a single in his first at bat using his speed to beat the throw and made solid contact on all but his final at bat when Hatcher struck him out.