Last season, the Oakland Athletics were 13 games over .500 on the road. It’s how they stayed as close as they did to the Division-winning Houston Astros. That, and their bullpen — the third-best in Major League Baseball, at times armed with as many as four All-Star closers.
This season, the A’s have seen their bullpen blow a league-worst nine saves and are 5-15 on the road. Unable to hold a three-run lead in the eighth, Oakland still had a chance to deal the Seattle Mariners their 13th defeat in 15 games. Instead, they blew a second lead in the 10th, and dropped a 6-5 decision.
After seven home runs (five by the A’s), multiple disputed calls, a pair of backbreaking bullpen collapses, a pair of droughts quenched and two Khris Davis home runs, Oakland took yet another gut-punch away from the Coliseum, culminating with a two-out RBI Omar Navarez single to left in the bottom of the 10th.
After ranking second in the American League in homers last season, the A’s hit five home runs on both April 10 and 11 at Baltimore, and both they and Khris Davis had hummed along, with Davis slugging big-league-leading 10 when he hit one in an 8-6 win over Texas on April 12.
That was the last time Davis wentyard in 21 games. Even taking into account the nearly-four games he had to sit with a hip contusion (he still grimmaced on each of his drives Monday), Davis had been hitting .208 since he hit his last home run — a span of 63 at-bats. His longest drought last season stretched from June 15 to July 6, when he went 67 at-bats without putting a ball out of the yard. During that spell, he hit just .209.
The A’s, too, had seen a power outage. For a team whose offense is predicated on the homer, the A’s had been distressingly pop-less over the last 15 games. Oakland had hit just 10 home runs in that span, slugging just .321 and averaging one home run every 52.9 at-bats. Last season, Oakland hit 227 longballs, second in the American League, with one every 27.6 at-bats. Last season, the A’s had four or more home runs in a game 11 times, the last coming on Sept. 26, 2018.
Davis’s first homer Monday came after two other dingers, one by Mitch Hanniger — slugging a 2-2 mid-thigh fastball into the second deck to lead things off against Mike Fiers — and a response in the top of the second by Mark Canha. Fresh off the injured list with only one other homer this season (following a 17-home run season a year ago), Canha socked a solo shot on a 1-1 belt-high slider to tie things up.
Then came Davis. In the top of the sixth, he eased into an 85-mph curve at his knees on the inner half and snuck one over the fence. As he came into the dugout, he received a deep and long hug from third baseman Matt Chapman. Daniel Mengden walked by seemed to take something invisible off of Davis’ back, perhaps some sort of weighty, insistent primate. Davis mouthed, “Oh my god,” with not a small amount of relief.
Then, Matt Olson — himself on the comeback trail following a monthlong stint on the injured list with a right hamate bone excision — swatted his second homer in as many days, jumping ship to right in the top of the seventh.
In the top of the eighth, Davis struck again, this time ripping a 2-0 95-mph fastball against reliever Austin Adams to give the A’s a 4-1 lead. Another homer, another Chapman hug.
After Fiers gutted his way through five innings, allowing just the Hanniger homer and one more hit while striking out four, the A’s turned to Yusmeiro Peitit. He gave Oakland two shutout innings. Naturally, set-up man Blake Treinen was slated to come in next with a 4-1 lead.
On a full-count offering to Edwin Encarnacion, Treinen’s 93-mph cutter at the bottom of the zone was called a ball, and instead of two outs and one man on, the Mariners had two on for powerful Daniel Vogelbach. Trivino served up a 98-mph middle-middle, dead-straight fastball, which Vogelbach hit over the center field wall for a three-run, game-tying home run.
Bob Melvin was vocal in his displeasure with home late umpire DJ Reyburn, who had earlier called a pitch low and well inside to Chapman as strike three, stranding two in the top of the seventh. Melvin yelled at Reyburn, labeling the pitch call to Encarnacion “bullsh*t” before finally getting tossed.
The A’s loaded the bases in the top of the ninth, with reliever Brandon Brennan wisely intentionally walking Davis before getting Stephen Piscotty swinging on a changeup in the dirt to end the threat.
Remembering that at-bat, Ramon Laureano came up with two outs in the 10th against Brennan, and waited on that changeup. Down 1-2, he got an 85-mph change on the inner half, and turned on it. It was his first homer since April 11.
After Joakim Soria walked Vogelbach with two outs in the 10th, pinch runner Dee Gordon stole second. With first base open, Soria deliverd a slider down to Domingo Santana — second in the American League in RBIs — and he snuck it inside the left field line. At first, Santana briefly stopped, thinking it was foul. Instead, he scored Gordon, tying things back up again. Narvaez’s single to left brought home Santana, and the Mariners celebrated.