OAKLAND — It probably wouldn’t be hyperbole to refer to this current stretch the A’s are embarking on as the most important of the season.
Over the final 40 games of the regular season, the A’s are tasked with the toughest schedule of any American League club. Kicking things off with a Bay Bridge Series showdown against the Giants, who entered Friday with the best record in baseball, the A’s three newest additions worked as catalysts, ensuring the club got off on the right foot in a 4-1 victory at the Coliseum.
The A’s 70th win of the year helped them keep pace in a tight playoff race with the Astros, Yankees and Red Sox, who each won on Friday. The A’s remain in possession of the second AL Wild Card spot and trail Houston by 2 1/2 games for first place in the AL West.
The nine-game homestand that got underway on Friday will wrap up next weekend with a critical four-game series against the Yankees, who hold a one-game lead over Oakland for the top AL Wild Card.
“We just want to get [to the playoffs] at some point,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “We’re more focused on trying to win the division. There’s a lot of teams bunched up, and we realize that. We’re just trying to grind through each game, and especially get off to a good start and have a good homestand.”
The A’s targeted Starling Marte, Yan Gomes and Josh Harrison in deals just before the Trade Deadline in an effort to transform an inconsistent offense. Like they’ve done so often in their short time with Oakland, the trio energized the offense, combining for five of the A’s six hits on the night while driving in three of their four runs.
Each of the newcomers contributed mightily to Friday’s win.
Marte does a bit of everything
A one-hit night might seem subpar for Marte, at least when compared to the several multi-hit efforts he’s turned in since joining the A’s. That one hit was an important one, though, as it added some much-needed insurance.
Holding a one-run lead in the bottom of the sixth, Marte roped a two-out double down the right-field line that scored Mark Canha from second. Given his propensity for stealing bases, it was only a matter of time before he tried to steal third. The A’s knew it was coming. The Giants knew it was coming.
Sure enough, with Matt Olson at the plate, Marte broke for third, prompting a rushed throw by pitcher José Álvarez that sailed down the left-field line to give him his 36th stolen base on the year, now tied with Kansas City’s Whit Merrifield for the Major League lead. Marte easily scored on the errant throw, single-handedly shifting a one-run lead to a three-run lead by manufacturing two runs in two different ways over the span of just a few pitches.
Marte has amazed most of his new teammates with his electric style of play. All except one: Harrison, who is no stranger to the outfielder’s all-around skills after watching it up close as his teammate with the Pirates from 2012-18.
“What he’s doing, I’ve seen for years,” Harrison said. “It’s always exciting to see a new group of guys experience what I’ve experienced with him for a couple years. He hasn’t lost a step. That’s Marte. He’s a guy that can change the game offensively, defensively and on the bases.
“With the team we have here, he brings another element that makes us more dangerous.”
Marte’s defense was also on display, making an impressive leaping catch on the run on a ball struck 100.4 mph by Wilmer Flores, running it down in deep left-center to end a threat by the Giants in the second inning.
Gomes’ calming presence
Rookie James Kaprielian battled command issues to depart with a one-run lead after five innings. With Kaprielian giving way to the bullpen in the sixth, Jake Diekman, Yusmeiro Petit, Sergio Romo and Lou Trivino combined to hold San Francisco to just two hits over the game’s final four innings, with Trivino’s scoreless ninth capping his 21st save of the year.
Just as important as Gomes’ two hits, which included a double that set up a go-ahead two-run rally in the fourth, was his ability to calm Kaprielian down through shaky waters. The right-hander, frustrated with his season-high four walks issued, credited Gomes for helping him remain focused in tough jams, specifically in the third, when he received a visit from the veteran catcher after walking three straight batters with two outs. Regrouping, Kaprielian induced an inning-ending flyout of Kris Bryant to keep the game scoreless at the time.
“For somebody as competitive as I am, he does a good job of keeping me grounded,” Kaprielian said. “I felt his presence behind the dish. When he wanted me to make a big pitch, he gave me the ‘Let’s go, we got this.’ He was telling me the right thing and making me believe in myself, even when I wasn’t at my best. That says a lot.”
Harrison in the clutch
Harrison sparked the A’s offense with a two-run single in the fourth. His energy was immediately felt upon making contact as he pumped his fist in the air on his way to first base.
After taking second base on the throw, Harrison appeared to feed off the announced crowd of 40,133, a season-high attendance at the Coliseum, with an emphatic “Ride The Wave” hand gesture towards the A’s dugout.
“Harrison just brings so much energy,” Melvin said. “Driving in those first two runs was huge.”