OAKLAND — First baseman Matt Olson wasn’t supposed to play on Saturday. He may have given manager Bob Melvin some side-eye when told he needed a day off, but he accepted it, having played in 142 straight games.
“The hard thing about Oly is giving him a full day, based on the fact that if you’re ahead, his defense always plays, and certainly can give you a pinch hit, too,” Melvin said.
Melvin brought Olson in on defense for Mark Canha in the seventh inning Saturday against the Texas Rangers, and in the eighth, he hit a leadoff home run to put the A’s on top in an eventual 8-6 win, keeping pace with the first-place Houston Astros, who beat the Red Sox in Boston.
“That was a pretty important at-bat,” Melvin said. “He’s always ready to go in. He was going to go in regardless.”
One of the top 20 defensive players in the major leagues, Olson been an eraser for mistakes across the infield with a steady glove at first, and had provided some pop with 24 homers, despite a middling .237 batting average.
Olson played every single one of the A’s 20 games in 20 days that preceded their series opener Friday against the Rangers. After missing the final seven games of 2017 with a hamstring injury, Olson had played in every game this season.
“I want to be in the lineup every day, and I think everybody in this room does,” Olson said. “I don’t want it to seem like I look at him sideways like it’s a bad thing. I wasn’t faulting him. I’m a competitor. I want to be in there every day.”
Olson needed a rest, but even before the game, Melvin said he’d likely make a cameo.
After Chad Pinder tied things up in the sixth with a two-out solo shot — one of six homers hit on the day — and Lou Trivino came on to pitch the seventh, that became a certainty, especially with two left-handers coming up in the bottom of the frame.
The 24-year old first baseman’s homer was the 30th Oakland has hit in the eighth inning this season — tops in the majors and one short of the club record, set in 2000.
“He’s always ready to play, and he wants to play every day,” Melvin said. “Pretty impactful when he came in the game today, that’s for sure.”
Khris Davis made the first impact, putting the A’s ahead with a two-run homer in the first, his 41st of the year, his 10th this season against the Rangers and 28th in his career against Texas. It was also his 146th in the last three seasons — the most in the majors, and the most in Oakland history, trailing only Jimmie Fox (150) for the franchise three-season record.
After that surge, starter Edwin Jackson — who will celebrate his 35th birthday on Sunday — ran into trouble.
Beltre — Jackson’s former Los Angeles Dodgers teammate and the only player still active from Jackson’s Sept. 9, 2003 debut — led off the second with his 11th home run of the season (and 473rd of his career) to cut the A’s lead in half. It came on a 3-1, 94 mph fastball, and was Beltre’s first career home run against Jackson, after going 9-for-19 against him in previous meetings.
Jackson — who in two previous starts against Texas had a 9.35 ERA and a .368 batting average against — allowed his third straight leadoff man to reach in the top of the third, when Delino DeShields Jr. lined a single off his glove.
That was followed up by a single from Shin Soo-Choo and a slider that slid a bit too far down and in to Rugned Odor, moving both runners up 90 feet. Jackson used that same slider to get Odor and Elvis Andrus swinging, but then Omar Mazara sent a booming double to center, bringing two runs home.
The only salvation in the inning was center fielder Ramon Laureano. After taking a questionable route on Mazara’s two-bagger (it would have gone over his head anyway), Laureano sprinted from his spot in medium-deep center all the way to the 388-foot sign in right center, leaping into the padding to rob Beltre of a sure RBI double. The drive had a 78 percent hit probability.
“Off the bat, you’re just hoping it doesn’t go out,” Melvin said. “Next thing you know, he’s crashing into the wall and it wouldn’t surprise you if the wall tipped over, as hard as he plays and as hard as he goes after it.”
Jackson wouldn’t escape the fourth, as a leadoff solo shot by Jurickson Profar brought on Shawn Kelley, who retired the side.
“I feel like all the runs I’ve given up this year have been against this team,” Jackson said. He’s not far off. In 11 2/3 innings, he’s allowed 13 earned runs. He’s allowed 28 earned runs since being called up in June.
The Rangers almost added to their tally against Cory Gearrin in the fifth, but bad baserunning by Rougned Odor cost them that insurance. On a grounder to short from Mazara, it seemed as though Odor — on second with a double — thought Shin Soo-Choo — aboard with a single — was going on contact from third. Choo didn’t, Odor got got hung up, and Semien erased Choo in a rundown, 6-2-5. With two men now in scoring position — Mazara took second on the play — Beltre popped out to end the inning.
“That was a Houdini inning, there,” Melvin said. “It looks like if we can escape with one, we probably would have taken it, but it was big on that play, and then [Gearrin] makes some pitches when he needs to make them.”
The A’s tied things up in the fifth, when a one-out single to center by Jonathan Lucroy and a double by Matt Chapman were cashed in on a double high off the wall in left center by Lowrie, his 36th two-bagger of the season.
After Pinder hit his 11th homer of the year in the sixth, a Stephen Piscotty double with two on and two outs in the bottom of the seventh added an insurance run.
Beltre slugged his 12th homer of the season in the eighth, marking his first multi-home run game of the season, and the 33rd of his illustrious career. That two-run homer came off of Fernando Rodney, who has now given up six earned runs in his last four outings spanning 3 1/3 innings.
Olson led off the bottom of the frame looking to bunt against the shift for a base hit. His attempt landed foul by less than two feet, but could easily have gone for a double. Instead, he went back to his normal approach on the next pitch, and the go-ahead home run to left center.
“I’m just trying to stay through the ball better,” Olson said.
That was followed by a single from Jonathan Lucroy and an RBI double by Chapman. Those two runs give the A’s 106 runs scored in the eighth inning this season, the most in the majors and setting a new Oakland record.
“Whether it’s the eighth, whether it’s the ninth, we grind on some pitchers and make ’em work,” Melvin said. “One big swing, a lot of times, does it.”
Blake Treinen earned his 37th save by striking out two in the ninth, as the record-tying ninth pitcher to take the mound for the A’s in a single game.