OAKLAND — For the first time since last June, the Oakland Athletics got swept at home. While last year it was at the hands of the division-leading Houston Astros, this time the culprit was the Toronto Blue Jays, who the A’s beat in each of the two teams’ seven meetings last season.
On Sunday the A’s dropped the finale of their three-game weekend series, 5-4, though along the way Ramon Laureano treated fans to one of the best defensive plays they’ll ever see.
“It just means we have to move on from what was a tough series for us. I mean, we beat them every game last year, so you certainly don’t expect it,” said manager Bob Melvin. “They played well and they played hard and they beat us. Gotta give it to them.”
With the game still scoreless in the top of the second inning, and Justin Smoak on first base, Blue Jays outfielder Teoscar Hernandez blasted a drive over the wall in left-center. However, Laureano ranged out, leaped at the perfect moment, and pulled the ball back, robbing what would have been a two-run homer.
After making the incredible catch, Laureano turned and fired a throw back toward the infield in an attempt to double off Smoak. His throw was so strong that it sailed over first baseman Kendrys Morales, allowing Smoak to turn back around once more and attempt to advance to second. However, catcher Nick Hundley was there to back it up and nab Smoak.
“I throw without thinking, so yeah that happens sometimes,” said Laureano about his impressive but overly exuberant throw.
“He doesn’t really surprise me anymore with the throws and the catches,” said starting pitcher Brett Anderson, who joked that the presence of former A’s center field standout Coco Crisp in the radio broadcast booth may have helped inspire the highlight catch. “He’s definitely special out there.”
Even beyond Laureano, there was plenty of defensive praise to go around. Hundley’s hustle was crucial to the double play, and in the next inning, Morales threw out a runner at the plate who had been trying to score on a grounder.
“We feel like we’re a good defensive team, and we can spread it around,” said Melvin. “Not only was it a good throw by Hundley, but the awareness to be there, and that far back. And that’s a play at the plate [by Morales] that we have to make.”
Laureano’s incredible effort kept Toronto off the board for a moment, but it didn’t take the Blue Jays long afterward to find home plate. They put together a small-ball rally in the third inning, using three singles, a walk, and a sacrifice bunt to manufacture two runs.
Making matters worse for the A’s, Anderson left his start early with a sprained left ankle. Toronto’s final hit of the third inning was a soft grounder toward third base, and Anderson came off the mound in an attempt to field it. However, he immediately misstepped and fell to the ground, and then exited the game in favor of reliever Yusmeiro Petit.
“It didn’t really hurt per se, but I just couldn’t push off, it just didn’t really feel stable,” said Anderson. “They taped it up so it’s pretty stable right now.”
In an odd coincidence, Anderson got hurt in his only 2018 start against the Blue Jays as well. He left that game last May after just one inning due to a shoulder problem. Even odder, the Toronto starter in that game was Marco Estrada, who is now on the A’s and landed on the injured list himself earlier this week.
“We’re gonna wait and see how he is tomorrow,” said Melvin of Anderson. “I think there’s still maybe some hope that he makes his next start, especially with the off-day we get [on Thursday].”
The Blue Jays had their own health problems, too. Starter Aaron Sanchez suffered a broken fingernail on his right middle finger and was pulled after four innings, marking the second straight day that Toronto saw its starter injured. On Saturday, Matt Shoemaker twisted his knee in the third inning, and he was placed on the injured list on Sunday with a season-ending torn ACL.
After Anderson’s early departure, Oakland’s bullpen coughed up a few insurance runs that eventually proved costly. Ryan Buchter let one through in the fifth inning, and J.B. Wendelken allowed a two-run homer to the red-hot Smoak in the sixth. Smoak finished the series 7-for-13 with two home runs.
After scoring just two total runs in the first two games of the series, and then getting just one run out of a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the fourth inning on Sunday, the A’s offense finally woke up and at least made this one close at the end. A pair of walks sparked a rally in the eighth inning, followed by an RBI single from Marcus Semien, a sacrifice fly by Matt Chapman, and another RBI single by Khris Davis, to cut the 5-1 deficit down to just one run. Kendrys Morales then sent a ball deep into the right field corner, but it found a glove to end the comeback threat.
Oakland rallied again in the ninth, with a pair of singles pushing the tying run into scoring position with one out, but they were unable to drive it home. Robbie Grossman lofted a flare to shallow left-center that had a chance of falling in for a fortunate game-tying single, but the Blue Jays got to it for the final out of the day.
“You’re gonna go through bouts during the season when you don’t swing really well, but we will,” said Melvin of an Oakland team that ranked fourth in the majors in scoring last year. “We’ll start to heat up.”
The A’s record now stands at 11-13, and on Monday they’ll open a series against the Texas Rangers to wrap up the homestand. Chris Bassitt will make the start, in his first major league outing of the season since being recalled last Wednesday, and he’ll face left-hander Mike Minor.