BY J.A. SCHWARTZ
The Twins rallied dramatically for two runs in the bottom of the ninth off A’s closer Liam Hendriks Sunday afternoon, winning the final game of the four game set 7-6 in a back and forth affair. Max Kepler drilled the winning hit to left field, following an RBI triple from Ehire Adrianza, who had tied the score one out earlier.
Kepler finished the contest a triple shy of the cycle, driving in four runs for the victorious Twins. For the A’s, who had battled back from a 4-0 deficit to take a 6-5 lead in the eighth, it was a bitter ending to a hard fought contest between the two playoff aspirants.
Hendriks (4-1), pitching for the third straight day, was tasked with completing the comeback victory. He had thrown 31 pitches combined over the past two evenings, but still featured his 98 MPH heat against the Twins in the ninth. “I felt fine. The ball was coming out good,” the stand-up closer said afterwards. “I just missed with location. These guys worked their tails off today, and I couldn’t bring it home.”
When asked if he considered pitching around Kepler, who had homered and doubled earlier in the contest, he was adamant. “I trust my stuff against anybody in the league, regardless of who it is.” A’s manager Bob Melvin did not believe Hendriks featured a diminished arsenal. “His stuff today was no different than any other day. Give them credit. They hit some good pitches. He’s been really good for us, and I think it is more-give them credit.”
Starter Daniel Mengden put the A’s in a difficult position early in the game, allowing six hits and five walks over 3.1 innings, including a three run HR to Kepler in the second, which staked the Twins to a 4-0 advantage. Asked about his outing, Mengden was direct. “I felt fine. It was just a lack of execution, and falling behind. I can’t put the team in a situation like that, in a hole like that.” Mengden, who hadn’t walked a batter in his previous three starts, wasn’t long for the contest, throwing 86 pitches, only 45 of which found the zone.
Jurickson Profar worked a one out walk from Twins starter Michael Pineda with one out in the fifth, and Josh Phegley hit a 2-1 pitch out to left for his 10th homer of the season, bringing the A’s to within 4-2. In 136 career starts, Pineda had only seven prior starts where he had walked four or more batters. But he ended up walking a season high five in his 5.1 innings, during which the A’s lineup worked him for 109 pitches.
The A’s defense kept them close throughout the game, with Marcus Semien making outstanding plays in the second, sixth and eighth, the last of which surely saved a critical run. Melvin was effusive in his praise for the shortstop. “It’s amazing. He’s been making great plays all year, so it’s not a surprise to us. He’s one of the premier shortstops in the game.”
Ramon Laureano made a running grab in the left center field gap that took extra bases away from Kepler in the fourth. First baseman Matt Olson turned a 3-2 double play against Kepler in the fifth with the bases loaded and nobody out, fielding a ground ball and stepping on first base as he fired home to Phegley to apply a tag on the sliding Luis Arraez. After a 67 second review following a challenge by Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, the call was upheld, and Matt Chapman completed the defensive wizardry in the inning by stabbing a wicked line drive off the bat of Jorge Polanco to keep the game at 5-2 after five.
Oakland kept the pressure on a beleaguered Twins bullpen that helped fuel yet another comeback. Every A’s starter except Mark Canha reached base by hit or walk. The collective patience of the entire lineup chewed through the Twins pen, seeing 195 pitches from the Twins hurlers over the course of the contest. The A’s drew a walk in every inning from the third through the ninth, with four of those walks scoring for Oakland during their furious rally.
Semien led off the seventh with a walk off reliever Trevor May, and Chapman just missed hitting a game tying home run by a few feet, doubling off the flower boxes in right field. A wild pitch allowed Semien to race home to make it 5-4, but Canha struck out swinging, the second A’s hitter in the inning felled by May’s 98 MPH heater.
After Robbie Grossman drew a one out walk from May in the eighth, Chris Herrmann, pinch- hitting for Chad Pinder, rocketed a double high off the scoreboard in right center, allowing Grossman to tie the score 5-5 when Gonzalez tripped over his own cleats after playing the ball off the wall. A passed ball by Jason Castro allowed pinch runner Franklin Barreto to reach third base, which proved critical, as Phegley’s routine fly ball to right allowed Barreto to score the go ahead run. With three RBIs for the A’s batting ninth, Phegley was arguably the offensive hero for Oakland. The A’s, who once trailed 4-0, had rallied yet again to take a 6-5 lead on the first place Twins.
With Joakim Soria on to pitch, the eighth began with an anomaly. Laureano misplayed a fly ball off the bat of Polanco for a two base error. Ranging far into the right-center field gap to chase down the drive, he appeared to misjudge it at the last moment. The A’s defense would rally around the miscue, however. Cruz hit a ground ball up the middle that was ticketed for a sure single to tie the game, but Semien dove to snare it, and rifled a throw to Olson from his knees to retire the 39-year-old DH. “The Cruz play was a game saver,” Melvin would note in his post game comments. After Rosario popped the next pitch out to Chapman at third, Soria fanned Sano on a slow curve to preserve the margin at 6-5 heading to the ninth.
Marwin Gonzalez would hit the first pitch to left from Hendriks for an easy out before Arraez lined a single to left. After getting ahead of Adrianza with 98 MPH fastballs, Hendriks tried to sneak a slider past him, and Adrianza blasted it off the wall in right for a run scoring triple, tying the contest at six. “I think every pitch that they hit, I ended up shaking off Phegley, but they were the pitches that I wanted to throw. I just missed with location,” Hendriks would say after the game. He rebounded to strike out Castro for the second out, but couldn’t get Kepler, who lined a single to left to win it for the Twins.
Kohl Stewart (2-1), the fifth pitcher for the Twins, fired a scoreless top of the ninth to earn the win, allowing the Twins to split the four game series and maintain their three game lead over the surging Indians in the AL Central.
With the loss the A’s fell 6.5 games behind the Astros, who beat the Rangers 5-3. Oakland maintained their Wild Card position, holding a single game lead over Tampa after today’s action. The A’s dropped to 57-43 on the season, the identical record they had after 100 games in 2018.
The A’s next travel to Houston to begin a three game showdown against the division leading Astros Monday night, with Homer Bailey (8-6, 4.69) making his second start for Oakland against Gerritt Cole (10-5, 3.12) in the opener. The A’s haven’t lost back-to-back games since June 8th.
Sunday was the annual Major League Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown, NY, with Edgar Martinez, Roy Halladay, Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera, Harold Baines, and Lee Smith all joining the ranks of baseball royalty this afternoon.
The A’s are 31-15 (.674) against the Twins since 2013, which is the second best record against Minnesota during that period (Yankees).
Last night was the first loss by the Twins when they led after eight innings. They had won their previous 53 games in those situations this year.
The A’s are 38-17 (.691) since May 16th, tied with the Yankees for the best record in baseball.
Yusmeiro Petit ranks first among AL relievers in games pitched with 50, and is fourth with just 1.01 walks per nine innings.
The A’s have now homered in 21 consecutive games, the second longest streak in team history. The record is 23 games in a row, set by the 1996 A’s.
Prior to going hitless Sunday, Mark Canha was hitting .306/.443/.673 since June 30, starting 13 of the A’s 15 games in RF since Stephen Piscotty went on the IL. The A’s are 38-15 (.717) with Canha in the lineup.
Ramon Laureano is hitting .469/.508/.1041 with seven doubles, seven HR and 13 RBI in 14 games in July. He’s just the fourth CF in Oakland history to hit 20 HR, joining Coco Crisp, Dave Henderson and Dwayne Murphy in that club.
Matt Olson extended his career high and current MLB high hitting streak to 16 games (19-for-64, .296). Olson also has five bunt hits, which is tied for second in the AL.
Marcus Semien has a 25 game errorless streak, and ranks second among AL shortstops with a .985 fielding percentage. He leads all AL shortstops in assists (274) and total chances (390).
A’s batters have been hit 50 times, ranking third in the AL.