After so much went wrong for the A’s in last night’s defeat, the team needed to bounce back and play its best ball with spot starter Chris Smith, making his first career start, taking the hill. And like it has on so few occasions all year, just about everything went right for Oakland as the team excelled on all fronts in what wound up being a nail-biter of a game.
Going up against twenty three years old rookie Andrew Moore, who made the first start of his big league career just a little more than a week ago, the A’s bats were quiet until Ryon Healy reached base on a hard single on the ground to center field to lead off the second inning. After Jed Lowrie hit a warning track fly ball out, Bruce Maxwell hit a sharp single to right field to move Healy into scoring position and give rookies Matt Chapman and Jaycob Brugman chances to drive him home. Matt Chapman meekly fouled off one slider and swung through three more to strike out for the inning’s second out, but Jaycob Brugman slapped the first pitch he saw the opposite way on a soft line for a single that allowed Healy to race around third and score with relative ease.
Not content with just a one run lead, with two outs in the top of the third inning Yonder Alonso crushed a curveball that hung up at the letters halfway up the right field bleachers for a solo home run to give the A’s a two run lead after three innings completed.
In an unlikely turn of events, Chris Smith became the oldest pitcher in the Athletics’ franchise history to make the first start of his career, at thirty-six-and-one-quarter years old, after a long and tumultuous journey as a quad-A reliever. Pitching in front of his family and friends, the momentous occasion did not appear to phase Smith one bit, making quick order of the Mariners in his first inning pitched, getting one strikeout and multiple swings on pitches well out of the strike zone.
Things remained just as easy going for Chris Smith right up to the moment Jarrod Dyson smacked a hard line drive double that deflected off of Yonder Alonso that went for a double. Two batters later, Jean Segura went down and out of the zone to hit a high and hard line drive that skipped passed a leaping Rajai Davis in left field for the Mariners’ first run, and then Matt Gamel followed that with a single through the infield shift to get Segura home. Smith escaped the inning after inducing a double play from Robinson Cano, but the damage was done and through three innings the score was tied at two.
The A’s have carried eight relievers all season because the team hasn’t had faith in any of its starters’ abilities to pitch deep into ballgames, and the team didn’t want to blow out all of their relievers’ arms. Mariners’ Andrew Moore pitched at least seven innings in his first two career starts, and his ability to throw strikes and avoid walks are the two biggest reasons why. Moore threw a first pitch strike to each of the first eighteen batters he faced, but in the fourth inning Maxwell and Chapman worked full counts and managed back-to-back walks to put the A’s in business again. Unfortunately, strong defense from the Mariners robbed Brugman and Davis of run scoring hits and cost the team at least two runs and the game remained tied going into the fifth.
Continuing to lose his previously impeccable control, Moore fell behind Matt Joyce 3-0 before eventually getting him to pop out after seven pitches and then fell behind Marcus Semien 2-1 after a first pitch strike. Moore then tossed a changeup that was directly down the heart of the plate and Semien hit a lazy fly ball to left that carried just far enough to bounce off of the top of the wall for a home run. Before Moore escaped the inning, he hit Healy with a pitch and his pitch count rose up above eighty.
Things weren’t going so well for Smith, either, as the Mariners started their third turn through the batting order. The Mariners answer for Semien’s home run was a leadoff solo shot from Dyson, who actually has managed to hit five over the season’s half. A double, a walk, and two booming shots from the Mariners made for a stressful, but ultimately fruitless, remainder of the inning for Seattle and the fifth ended tied 3-3.
Chris Smith’s day ended after a looking strikeout to Haniger and a scoreless sixth inning. His final line on the night was six hits, three runs, one walk, and four strikeouts. While he only had one walk on the evening, his control was pretty erratic over his final few frames and fell behind nearly every Seattle batter (only 55 of 97 total pitches went for strikes), but his wildness also induced several ugly looking swings from the Mariners. For a guy making history for being old, relatively, he pitched with the tenacity and emotion of a cocky rookie. He was fiery on the mound and kept the A’s in the game all night.
The game became a battle of the bullpens after six innings, something that both A’s and Mariners fans can all agree is a less than ideal circumstance. For both the seventh and eighth innings, neither side blinked. Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle both were superb in their innings.
Edwin Diaz has great potential, but has been exhausting this year for Seattle fans, especially of late. Rajai began the final frame with an infield single and a steal of second after several hundred pick off attempts. Joyce and Semien each made outs, and Alonso was walked to set up a righty-versus-righty matchup with Healy. Healy fell behind 0-2, but Diaz’ payoff pitch was a slider that hung up in the zone and Healy punished it for a ground rule double that scored Davis and allowed the A’s to retake the lead 4-3.
Oakland’s own version of a heart-attack closer pitched the bottom of the ninth. Santiago Casilla took his time retiring the first two batters he faced, but got the job done. With the game on the line, Haniger nearly took Casilla yard, but fortunately for Oakland the ball was hit to the deepest part of the yard and merely went for a double. Facing thorn-in-the-side Jarrod Dyson with the tying run in scoring position, Casilla got him to hit a lazy fly ball to left field that was easily corralled for the final out of the game and procuring the win for the A’s.
The main story in tonight’s game will probably be Chris Smith’s historical starting pitching debut, but tonight’s win was a team wide effort. From Healy’s game-winning double in the ninth, to Chapman looking more comfortable and stronger at the plate, to Semien getting his first home run of the year (and Alonso his twentieth), to seeing above average defense, to three scoreless innings from the bullpen in a tight game, this was a fun, solid victory in a game this team would have lost a month ago.
A’s win 4-3, and look to secure another road series win before the All Star Break tomorrow at 1:10.