OAKLAND —Entering the bottom of the seventh inning on Thursday, it appeared the Oakland Athletics would fall short against the Los Angeles Angels. They were trailing by five runs and had only managed four hits on the day.
The A’s scored seven times in that seventh inning.
Thanks to a home run by Josh Phegley, four straight walks by a wild Angels bullpen and a pinch-hit two-run triple by Robbie Grossman, Oakland turned that late deficit into a 10-6 victory, wrapping up a three-game sweep at the Coliseum and earning rookie reliever A.J. Puk his first career win.
“I think that’s just the mentality of this team,” said Grossman. “We’re never out. How many times this season has something like that occurred? This team’s full of confidence, and we never feel like we’re out of it.”
The A’s comeback began with a one-out single by Sheldon Neuse, followed by Phegley’s two-run homer into the left field corner to cut the lead to three. That was enough to knock out bulk reliever Jose Suarez, who had followed a first-inning opener with five scoreless frames to that point.
After Phegley’s blast, the Los Angeles bullpen fell apart. Marcus Semien greeted reliever Ty Buttrey with a single, and the next three batters drew walks, forcing in another run. Miguel Del Pozo took over for Buttrey and promptly walked Jurickson Profar to send in yet another run, and then Luis Garcia relieved Del Pozo and got Khris Davis to tap a ground ball to the left side. However, the grounder wasn’t hit hard enough for an inning-ending double play, allowing the tying run to score.
“That was one of their better guys, Buttrey,” said Semien of the Angels’ top setup man. “Glad we had a big inning against him, had struggled against him in the past. Just had to get into their bullpen and grind out at-bats.”
Grossman was called to pinch-hit for right fielder Chad Pinder against right-handed reliever Adalberto Mejia, and he launched the first pitch he saw for a triple over a leaping Mike Trout and off the wall in center, bringing home two more runs.
Grossman has been dangerous off the bench all season, going 5-for-16 with a homer, five RBIs, four walks and only two strikeouts as a pinch-hitter. Three of those five hits have gone for extra-bases.
“I put a good swing on it, and luckily Mr Trout didn’t catch it,” Grossman said.
By the end of the seventh, Oakland had sent 11 batters to the plate, scoring seven runs on four hits and four walks against five different Angels pitchers.
“When we’re our best, we hit home runs and we make pitchers work hard, draw walks, pass the baton to the next guy,” said manager Bob Melvin.
The A’s then added some insurance in the eighth off of Noe Ramirez. Semien once again set the table, this time with a one-out double for his fourth hit of the day and his fifth time reaching base. Oakland went on to load the bases, and then Profar lofted a fly into shallow center, which landed in front of Trout for two more runs.
“For a while there it didn’t feel great,” Melvin said. “We never really have a feeling in our dugout like it might not work for us, and it was a little sluggish for a bit and they turned it on like they tend to do late in games.”
Before Oakland’s big seventh-inning rally, the Angels had been in control for the entire afternoon. They plated two runs in the first inning off of A’s starter Brett Anderson, thanks to a pair of infield singles ahead of a ringing double by Justin Upton, and then another pair in the third inning using a bunt single ahead of a monster 455-foot homer by Trout. The long ball was Trout’s 45th of the year, tying him for the major league lead.
Anderson ended up allowing five runs in his five innings of work, marking just the third time in his last 12 starts that he hasn’t completed at least six innings. However, the lefty wasn’t discouraged by the lackluster results.
“I thought I threw quite a bit better than my final line,” said Anderson. “My stuff and execution wasn’t that much different than my last start against the Yankees. They just found some holes.”
Puk relieved Anderson to begin the sixth inning and worked two strong frames to keep the A’s close, striking out a pair and allowing just a solo homer to catcher Kevan Smith. Puk’s long effort was particularly helpful on a day when Oakland’s bullpen had multiple arms unavailable, including setup man Yusmeiro Petit, who is away from the team for an undisclosed family reason.
The big lefty, who has already shown off his upper-90s heater and wipeout slider in the majors, mixed in his changeup for the first time since arriving in Oakland, as well as his curveball, which he’d only thrown once before Thursday.
“He’s starting to throw all his pitches which I think is gonna be key for him,” said Melvin. “When you go out there with a limited arsenal and you get to the big leagues and you’re counted on and now you don’t have all your weapons, it’s hard.”
Oakland has now won its last six meetings against the Angels, dating back to the end of June. Thursday’s victory puts them in a virtual tie for the top Wild Card spot with the Tampa Bay Rays, who don’t play until later in the evening. No matter what happens in Tampa Bay, though, the A’s hold the advantage — for now — with one fewer loss on their record as well as the head-to-head tiebreaker in hand.
“We’re just trying to win as many games as we can right now,” said Melvin. “I think the fact that you come back and you win a game where it looked like you were behind the eight-ball for a little bit, obviously feels good, but our guys have done that before so I think at times they just expect to come back.”