By Alex Hall
Special to S.F. Examiner
OAKLAND — The last time Aaron Brooks started a Major League game was in 2015, but you wouldn’t know it from watching him on Monday. Facing former Cy Young winner David Price and the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox, Brooks became the latest A’s starter to spin six scoreless innings, en route to a 7-0 victory in the opener of a four-game series.
Brooks allowed some hard contact early on, and got a boost from his defense when Ramon Laureano threw out a runner at home plate in the second inning. However, the right-hander settled down as the night went on and truly earned his final zeroes on the scoreboard. He struck out six batters along the way, and allowed just two hits and one walk.
“You could see the confidence build as the game went along,” said manager Bob Melvin. “After the first, and the second, and third, he’s going out there with more confidence, and boy he pitched really well. (Catcher Nick) Hundley did a great job with him. Can’t say enough good things.”
This marks the fourth time in the last five games that an A’s starter has pitched six scoreless innings. Over those five contests, comprising one full turn through the rotation, the starters have combined for 30 innings while allowing just one run on 11 hits.
“They keep pushing each other,” said Melvin. “It’s a momentum thing, that you see quite often with starting pitchers. The next one wants to go out there and up the ante, that or continue the trend, and Brooksie did. For a number five guy against the world champions, that’s a pretty good effort.”
Brooks agreed with that sentiment. “Obviously when the first four (other A’s starters) go that well you kinda have to keep the roll going, or at least try. Thankfully it worked out for us. They’re not the easiest of lineups to face and keeping them off balance and keeping them guessing is the way to go and it worked out.”
While Brooks was keeping the Red Sox at bay, the A’s lineup provided some fireworks against Price in his season debut. Oakland swatted three home runs against the left-hander — Khris Davis opened the scoring with a solo shot in the second inning, Laureano followed with another solo job in the third, and then Chad Pinder blasted a two-run dinger in the sixth.
For Davis, it was his MLB-leading fifth homer of the season. His 138 long balls since 2016 are also the most in the majors, as are his 242 RBIs since 2017. Mark McGwire and Reggie Jackson are the only other A’s players ever to hit five in their first seven games of a new campaign.
“Sometimes I stay up at night trying to think of more superlatives to say about Khris Davis, because I know I’m probably gonna have to when I come in here after the game,” said Melvin. “But I’m kind of all out of them. Go ask him, go ask his teammates, it’s amazing. He just keeps getting better and better. Not only does he hit a lot of home runs, he hits them when you really need them.”
For Laureano, the homer was a welcome sight after a slow start to the season. After bursting onto the scene as a rookie sensation last summer, he entered this game 3-for-20 with nine strikeouts and no walks or extra-base hits so far in 2019. However, he turned in an excellent effort on Monday on both sides of the ball.
While Laureano’s homer was impressive, 428 feet to straightaway center field off the suite windows, the throw may have been even better. After fielding a single in medium-deep center, he unleashed a dart toward home plate that got there on the fly and hit the catcher’s glove perfectly. Xander Bogaerts had been trying to score from second on the play, with what would have been the tying run at the time, but he was called out and the ruling stood upon replay review.
“That throw is huge right there,” said Melvin. “It’s a run, all of a sudden it’s a tie game, and now it’s not.”
Melvin continued: “You overthrow the cutoff man, and the trail runner can move up to second. It’s like a three-point shot: No, no, no, yeah! And he’s done that before, so we should know to never count out his arm on a particular play. When it was hit, I didn’t think he had a chance.”
Even Laureano was a bit surprised that he nabbed Bogaerts. “I thought he was safe, but I didn’t see the replay.”
The A’s kept rolling against Boston’s bullpen. They scored three more runs in the eighth to pad their lead, beginning with a homer from Matt Chapman and continuing with a string of four straight batters reaching base on three hits and an error. One of those hits came from new acquisition Kendrys Morales, who notched his first RBI since joining the team last week.
After Brooks’ exit, the A’s bullpen sealed it without needing to call on any of their top setup men. Ryan Buchter, Liam Hendriks, J.B. Wendelken, and Fernando Rodney — in his 900th career appearance — teamed up to keep the Red Sox quiet the rest of the way, allowing just two hits and a walk in the final three innings.
Said Wendelken, of getting a chance to pitch in the eighth inning in just his 24th career major league appearance: “I’m glad they trust me enough to where I can come in and show them that I can throw those types of innings, and we can get our other guys like Lou (Trivino) and (closer Blake) Treinen and them all the rest they need. We have an arsenal of pitchers from top to bottom, starting to the bullpen, and it comes in handy when you get an opportunity like that.”
Indeed, that top-to-bottom quality showed up in full force on Monday. The fifth starter shut down the champs, the bullpen’s B-team finished them off, and the coldest hitter in the lineup went yard. It may have been April Fool’s Day, but this game was no joke and this team is well on the way to proving themselves as a force to be reckoned with in 2019.