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Oakland Athletics: Mike Fiers impresses in debut vs. Kershaw, as Khris Davis comes up with the winner again

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Oakland Athletics’ DH Khris Davis connects on a fly ball against the Giants at AT&T Park on Friday, July 13, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

OAKLAND — Khris Davis leads the major leagues in home runs since 2016. He’s the embodiment of the so-called “three true outcomes” that now dominate baseball advanced statistical analysis.

From 2015 to 2017, the Oakland Athletics designated hitter had three straight seasons of hitting .247, striking out at least 122 times and hitting at least 27 home runs. With one out and a man on third in a 2-2 tie with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday night, Davis took two big rips at J.T. Chargois fastballs. He missed both times.

“I was telling myself, after those swings, to cut it down, especially with two strikes,” Davis said. “That’s not the swing you want to take with two strikes. I was telling myself to swing at a good pitch, and cut down on my swing.”

Then, he hit a bounder to third baseman Manny Machado, who came home to try to cut down Marcus Semien. Catcher Yasmani Grandal dropped the ball, and Semien was called safe. That grounder sent Oakland to a 3-2 win in which they came back late and nailed down the final four innings with the bullpen, showing newly-acquired starter Mike Fiers the formula that’s led to 34 wins in the A’s last 45 games.

The A’s — who lead the league in batting average and runs in the seventh inning or later — got two singles in the seventh and then Davis’s bounder — while Jeurys Familia extended his streak of outings without an earned run to eight, Lou Trivino allowed a run on a bloop single — his first since July 22 — and Blake Treinen earned his 29th save despite walking a man for the first time since July 21.

“This team plays team baseball, and that’s what I want to be a part of,” Fiers said. “This team does everything right. They hustle, they pitch well, they play defense, come up with big hits, put together good at-bats against a great pitcher over there in [Clayton] Kershaw. Just to battle this game out and come out on top is huge.”

In keeping Kershaw winless in four tries at the Oakland Coliseum, Fiers — who came to the A’s on Monday in a waiver deal with the Detroit Tigers — threw just 5 1/3 innings, but was perfect for four, striking out eight of the first 12 men he faced — a season high — without issuing a walk. His eight K’s on the night were the most since he struck out nine on July 21 of last season.

“Everything was working,” said Fiers, whose transition was eased by throwing to his former catcher in Milwaukee, Jonathan Lucroy. “Me and Lucroy, it just felt like old times there. He knows my strengths and weaknesses. He knows how to attack these guys, and he does his homework before every game, so just trusting him.”

Fiers threw first-pitch strikes to eight of the first 10 men he faced, and nine of the first 12. He went to a three-ball count just once in the first 4 2/3 innings (and twice overall).

As Fiers cruised, the A’s scored two runs in the bottom fourth, when back-to-back one-out singles by Davis and Mark Canha were cashed in on by a full-count Stephen Piscotty single and a fly-ball base hit to right by rookie Ramon Laureano.

Fiers’s one real mistake was an 89.7 mph fastball to Los Angeles catcher Yasmani Grandal, who rocketed his 20th homer of the year to right in the top of the fifth, ending Fiers’s four innings of perfect baseball.

Fiers allowed a booming double to Machado with one out in the sixth, ending his night after 78 pitches, 56 of them strikes.

“I got a rested bullpen,” Melvin explained. “I talked to [Fiers] when he got here, and I said, ‘Look, there are going to be days when we’re rested down there, and you might come out of some games a little earlier than you think,’ but he was fine with it. We ended up with a win.”

As good as that bullpen has been, though, it appeared mortal in the seventh. With one out and Bellinger standing on second with a leadoff double, Trivino induced a hard grounder up the first base line by Machado. While Matt Olson saved what would have been a double, he couldn’t get a clean handle on the ball, and instead of turning two, stepped on first for the out. One batter later, Chris Taylor sent a one-strike flare to left center, bringing Bellinger around to score.

Familia got into a spot of trouble in the eighth, allowing a line-drive single to right by Turner, who took second when Lucroy whiffed on a fastball to Grandal. Familia went on to fan both Grandal and Dozier, the latter after an eight-pitch battle, to end the inning.

After Semien led off the eighth with a single to left, and Jed Lowrie broke an 0-for-17 streak with aline drive single to right, Davis took Chargois to seven pitches before sending a bouncer to Machado at third.

Machado’s throw home to catcher Yasmani Grandall was just on time, but Grandal couldn’t get a clean handle on the ball, and home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski changed his call from out to safe almost immediately.

“I thought he was safe by a mile,” Melvin said. “If my eyes were open, I’d probably […] no, I mean, I thought he was safe. It looked like he beat it. He got a good jump. I thought he was safe.”

Davis, now hitting .256 this season, has become more of a hitter than just a masher since the start of July. In his last 31 games, he’s hitting .311, with 10 walks, 12 home runs, seven doubles and 33 RBIs, though the go-ahead tally in the eighth did not count, due to Grandal’s drop.

“I’m impressed by his at-bats, where he’s driving in runs without hitting a home run,” said manager Bob Melvin. “If you watch his BP now, he’s hitting the ball the other way, he’s trying to put balls in play, he’s not going up there trying to hit a home run right there. He knows he just needs to put it in play. That’s a hitter’s RBI, not necessarily a power hitter’s RBI. He’s just become a better hitter.”

Davis credits his late-season emergence to making a conscious effort to slow the game down.

“A lot of it’s maturity,” said the 30-year old. “Game situations, just being able to slow the game down, because that’s a big situation, late in the game, tie ballgame. Just being able to slow the game down and control what I can control.”

With the 3-2 win, Oakland gained more separation over the Seattle Mariners (who lost to the Texas Rangers) for the second AL Wild Card spot, and kept pace with the New York Yankees, who hold a 4 1/2-game lead for the first Wild Card spot.

“They’re definitely a tough bunch,” Fiers said of his new teammates. “Resilient. Always putting together good at-bats and making it tough on a hitter, making it tough on pitchers. Just everything. It’s a whole team game.”

Quotable:

Melvin, a former catcher, when he learned that Grandal was given an error on the play at the plate: “Really? That’s surprising. Goes down as an RBI in my book.”

Notebook:

The last time Kershaw struck out fewer than two men was July 15, 2010 vs. St. Louis.

Kershaw had just four swings and misses in 97 pitches. He’s only allowed fewer in a start that length once, in 2009. He hasn’t induced fewer than seven swings and misses in a 97+ pitch start since April 16, 2011.

Kershaw is now winless at the Coliseum in four starts, with three no-decisions, and saw his ERA go from 0.87 in Oakland to 1.35.

The A’s finished their home stand 7-1.

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