BY J.A. SCHWARTZ
The A’s survived a wild game in their finale in Minnesota, winning 7-6 Sunday afternoon at Target Field behind a run that scored on a strikeout in the top of the ninth to take two of three from the struggling Twins.
Oakland scratched and clawed, and despite allowing two Twins home runs without hitting one themselves, scored runs in every imaginable way to win a game that they trailed 4-1 in the fifth inning. Just as the Twins had done the day before, the A’s erased a three run deficit to win the back-and-forth affair. Lou Trivino (2-1, 3.27) got the win with 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief to finish the game, and Taylor Rogers (0-2) was saddled with the loss.
After four straight hits to open the fifth, an RBI single by Sean Murphy drove home Chad Pinder to slice the deficit to 4-2. Twins starter Kenta Maeda was on the ropes, with his velocity topping out at 89, and he was pulled after Mark Canha’s rope single to left loaded the bases. Tyler Duffey was tasked with putting out the fire, entering the game with nobody out to protect the lead.
After an RBI groundout by Seth Brown, Ramon Laureano hit a ground ball to shortstop Andrelton Simmons. Elvis Andrus, caught in a rundown, did his best Neymar impersonation, feigning grievous bodily contact with the catcher. Home plate umpire John Libka ruled that catcher Ben Rortvedt, who had entered the game behind the plate to replace an injured Willians Astudillo in the fourth inning, interfered with Andrus as he made his way down the third base line, allowing him to score. After Chapman hit a sacrifice fly to right to score Canha, the A’s were up 5-4, scoring their last three runs without the benefit of a base hit thanks to a very questionable error charged to the Twins catcher.
Bob Melvin credited the heady shortstop for his awareness, “He’s stolen, literally stolen, two runs on this trip, and he’s got a baseball acumen that’s off the charts.”
Chris Bassitt echoed those sentiments, saying of Andrus, “The guy’s IQ for the game is off the charts. If you give Elvis any wiggle room, he’s going to take it, and unfortunately for them, they made a mistake there.”
Andrus himself described the play in his postgame zoom call: “When you’re in the rundown, I’m out-in my head, and automatically I’m trying to find a way to get out of that situation. Usually it happens with young guys who haven’t been in the league that long, and don’t know me yet, so as soon as I saw that opportunity, I took it.”
Asked if he had executed that type of play before, Andrus noted, “I’ve done it a lot of times where they’ve called me out, saying I provoked (the contact). The guys that know me get out of the way pretty fast. It’s usually a new guy in the league that doesn’t know that, and stays there, and it’s pretty easy to get that one.”
Bob Melvin gave Jake Diekman a chance to erase the memories of his blown save Saturday, giving him the ball with one out in the eighth to shut down any hope of a Twins rally. It wasn’t meant to be. Max Kepler greeted him by drilling a double to right field, and advanced to third on a wild pitch before Diekman struck out pinch hitter Mitch Garver. Facing the light hitting Simmons, Diekman’s first pitch was crushed over the left field wall, tying the score at six. It was the second home run allowed by Diekman in as many games.
Melvin stood by his lefty despite watching him squander the lead. “Today, he just didn’t get it high enough”, he said of the pitch to Simmmons. “It’s going to happen from time to time. He’s picked us up plenty, and I’m glad we could pick him up today.”
The A’s reclaimed the lead in the ninth, taking advantage of a Josh Donaldson error on a catch at second that would’ve been an inning ending double play, allowing Matt Olson to reach safely with Laureano advancing to third after his leadoff single. Laureano scampered home as Chapman struck out on a ball in the dirt that eluded Garver, the third Twins catcher of the day, giving Oakland a 7-6 lead that Trivino would make stand up with a scoreless ninth.
Starting pitcher Chris Bassit, who labored through five gutty innings, said of his team, “If you’re looking at a single game…like what are the Oakland A’s and what are they made of, this was the game.”
The A’s haven’t lost a series to the Twins since May of 2017, having gone 5-0-1. Oakland’s loss yesterday snapped a ten game winning streak against AL Central teams.
Maeda has only a single quality start among the seven he’s made this year, after throwing eight quality starts out of 11 in 2020 on the way to finishing second in the AL Cy Young race.
Mark Canha leads the majors in being hit by a pitch, with nine. He’s also the A’s all-time leader in HBP with 60.
Oakland starters have walked two or fewer batters in 30 of their last 31 games. The A’s have held a share of first place in the AL West for the past 27 days.
Since his Tommy John surgery in May of 2016, Bassitt is 20-12 with a 3.33 ERA, with 8.61 K/9 in 57 games (50 starts). Prior to that procedure, he was 2-11 with a 4.13 ERA and 6.77 K/9 in 29 games (23 starts).
Bassitt led the Majors with five hit batters entering the game, a total that increased to seven before the day was over.
Umpire John Libka, who had the home plate duties today, is responsible for perhaps the best and most accurately called game in at least the past five years (since this type of data has been tracked). In the May 8th game where the Cardinals shut out the Rockies 5-0, Libka called 135 of 136 pitches accurately, the closest any umpire has come to a “perfect game” since tracking began.