OAKLAND — On Wednesday night, the Oakland Athletics were reminded of their own fickle fortune.
Their opponents — the New York Yankees — now have the best record in the American League, but a year ago, were relegated to the do-or-die wild card game the A’s after a 100-win season. Oakland would lose that 2018 AL wild card game, but are once again vying for that same spot.
On Wednesday, in Bob Melvin’s 1,200th career win as a manager, Oakland stifled the Yankees for a second consecutive night, coming away with a 6-4 victory to clinch back-to-back series wins over two division leaders. In so doing, the A’s moved one step closer to a reward ill-fitting a team that belongs among the AL elite: Another berth in a wild card game.
“It means I’m old and it means I have really good players,” said Melvin of his milestone. “This group is pretty special so I’m glad to be able to accomplish it with them.”
With the win, Oakland improved to 73-53, a season-high 20 games over .500, and remained a half game back of the Tampa Bay Rays for the second AL wild card. They continue to make a case that they are one of the best teams in baseball, having won five of their last six against the Yankees and AL West-leading Houston Astros.
That case starts with Mike Fiers who, since his no-hitter on May 7, has been one of the toughest hurlers in the game – 9-0 with a 2.40 ERA and .202 opponents batting average over that stretch.
Against the Yankees, Fiers wasn’t as dominant, but did enough to limit the league’s highest scoring offense – 5.9 runs per game – to just two runs in his 5 1/3 innings. It was only the second time in Fiers’ last 17 starts that he went fewer than six innings and the right-hander was displeased when he was pulled from the game with the bases loaded in the sixth.
“Bob’s gotta treat this like a playoff game,” Fiers said. “We’ve got to win every game. He turned to the bullpen and getting out of that jam was huge.”
A combination of Jake Diekman and Yusmeiro Petit got out of the one-out jam and snuffed out New York’s biggest scoring threat.
Fiers’ performance was enough for an Oakland offense that, in the past month, has been boom or bust. In their last 12 games, the A’s have scored fewer than two runs five times and more than six runs six times.
As has been the case throughout the season, most of Oakland’s runs came via the long ball. Homers from Khris Davis, Marcus Semien and Stephen Piscotty fueled the offensive outburst, and were a promising sign for a couple players who have scuffled on the year.
After an 0-for-4, four-strikeout night for Davis on Tuesday, Melvin maintained that the A’s would continue to stick with the slugger as he looks to break out of the worst funk of his career.
“We’ve got to keep rolling with him,” Melvin said. “This guy has been so good for us for three years and is about as consistent as any power hitter in baseball.”
Davis responded in the bottom of the second by cranking an opposite-field, two-run blast off J.A. Happ to seize a 2-1 lead.
Before the round-tripper, Davis was 0-for-17 with seven strikeouts, and had not homered since July 30. It was also just his second home run in his last 45 games dating back to June 18.
“He needed that,” Melvin said. “It’s weighing on him. He wants to hit in the middle of the order and do what he usually does, but everybody goes through tough times.”
The next inning, Semien padded the lead with his own two-run homer, turning on a 1-1 hanging slider and sending it bouncing up the left field stairwell.
In the sixth, Piscotty provided the A’s with another insurance run with his 13th four-bagger of the year, a solo shot that extended the lead to 6-2 before the Yankees scored two in the next inning.
Unlike Davis, Piscotty’s season has been significantly shortened by injury, as the outfielder missed the whole month of July with a right knee sprain. Since returning on August 3, he has hit a solid .271, .100 points higher than his June average of .169.
Aside from their importance in the win – with Davis and Piscotty combining for three RBIs, the difference in the game – the home runs for the pair of Oakland mainstays were encouraging for a team that could use more consistent hitting outside of the top of its order down the stretch.
Following a nervy major-league debut for A.J. Puk in the eighth, Liam Hendriks closed the door with a five-out save, cleaning up the first-and-third one-out mess left to him by Puk by striking out D.J. Lemahieu and Aaron Judge, then retiring the side in order in the ninth.