ORACLE PARK — If the Oakland Athletics are to have any chance at the second American League wild card, they’re going to need more of the Homer Bailey they got in Wednesday’s 9-5 win over the San Francisco Giants, and a lot less of their bullpen.
Bailey turned in his best individual outing since April and was the beneficiary of a 15-hit, three-homer Oakland attack, but the A’s shaky bullpen nearly coughed up a seven-run, eighth-inning lead at offensively-stifling Oracle Park.
The A’s split the two-game, first leg of the Bay Bridge Series and got a pair of homers from the suddenly-hot Matt Chapman, but struggled to put away a Giants team that had to rally in July just to get to .500 and wedge themselves into the playoff conversation. With opportunities to gain ground in the wild card race dwindling, the brief series should be of concern.
“It was a little scarier than we would like,” said manager Bob Melvin.
Oakland’s bullpen — nigh untouchable a year ago — nearly blew its 22nd save (sixth-most in baseball) by giving up five runs in the eighth to a San Francisco team that ranks 27th in baseball in runs scored and 28th in batting average, necessitating a four-out save from Liam Hendriks.
Brandon Crawford led off with a single off Joakim Soria, who then walked Austin Slater and wild-pitched home a run before walking Brandon Belt with one out. Mike Yastrzemski then homered to center — just San Francisco’s eighth ball out of the infield on the day, and first with an exit velocity of over 100 mph — cutting the lead to 7-4.
Yusmeiro Petit allowed a double to Stephen Vogt and an RBI groundout to just-activated Alex Dickerson, before Hendriks came on to strike out Kevin Pillar. Before that, the A’s were largely in control thanks to Bailey, who allowed just two infield (both by Pillar), walked one and struck out seven in seven shutout innings.
In two previous road starts for the A’s, Bailey allowed 16 earned runs in 6 2/3 innings, but had posted a 3.50 ERA in three six-inning outings at the Coliseum. On Wednesday at Oracle Park, he allowed just three baserunners. The last time he went at least seven innings and allowed two or fewer hits was April 13 against Cleveland.
“That’s the best we’ve seen from him,” Melvin said. “We’ve seen it looks like when his split’s on, and he’s tough customer to deal with because he can throw it for a strike throw for chase, keeps guys off his fastball.”
While the Giants (60-61) only got six balls out of the infield against the Bailey, the A’s (68-52) owned 10 of the 13 hardest-hit balls of the day, with all 10 coming out at 100 mph or harder.
After Chapman’s 411-foot, 106-mph solo shot to dead center in the first, Oakland got an opposite-field leadoff single by Stephen Piscotty in the second, then moved him over with a pair of grounders and scored him on Bailey’s swinging bunt up the third-base line — the first of his two hits on the day.
Robbie Grossman led off the third with his 18th double of the season, and after Chapman took a dose, Matt Olson plunked his 16th two-bagger off the G in the Levi’s Landing sign and into the right-field corner, scoring two. A sixth-inning Grossman homer and an eighth-inning RBI triple by Marcus Semien extended the lead to 7-0.
After the five-run eighth, Oakland got a run back with Chapman’s 27th homer of the year, marking the fifth multi-home run game of his career, and first since Aug. 26 of last season.
“I think it’s the hardest place to hit,” Chapman said. “And Oakland’s second.”
Following a 2-for-47 stretch from July 24 to Aug. 7, Chapman shaved his head to change his luck. His mother isn’t a fan, but he’s gotten at least one hit in the five games since, going 7-for-22 with three home runs and a double.
“I didn’t realize me cutting my hair was news,” said Chapman, whose mother was not a fan of the move, but has come to accept it.
If Chapman can come around and Baily can be more consistent, that should go a long way toward keeping the A’s in playoff contention. Oakland has a much tougher road to the playoffs than the team in front of them: The Tampa Bay Rays, who face the three worst teams in the American League in their next three series in the Orioles, Mariners and Tigers.
Starting with this weekend’s set against the Houston Astros, the A’s have eight more against the division leaders, plus six against the AL East-leading New York Yankees (81-41) — who have the best record in baseball — but none against the two teams ahead of them in the wild card, Cleveland and Tampa Bay.