By Alex Hall
Special to S.F. Examiner
OAKLAND — The Oakland Athletics have one of the five best offenses in all of baseball this year, but on Thursday against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, they had a huge day even by their own lofty standards.
The A’s scored their most runs in a game since 2000, and tied for the most ever allowed by the Angels in their franchise history, battering Los Angeles by a comical 21-3 margin.
“Honestly, when I saw the score right there on the board I thought it was a football score,” said right fielder Stephen Piscotty, who drove in four runs after knocking in five the previous evening.
Ironically, even though the NFL’s Oakland Raiders have played in the Coliseum for 46 years, they’ve never had a 21-3 game, and this year’s Raiders haven’t yet reached 21 points in either of the two games they’ve played.
The A’s began Thursday’s onslaught in the third inning. Facing an early 1-0 deficit, they plated five in the frame to take the lead, capped by a three-run homer from Piscotty. They soon followed that outburst with seven more runs in the fourth inning, in a rally that featured eight hits. In the sixth they scored six more times, and then they wrapped it up with three in the seventh.
“Our lineup is deep all the way through and we feel like we have a chance to score every inning,” said manager Bob Melvin.
It was only the third time in Oakland history that the team scored five or more runs in an inning three times in a single game, with the last instance coming in 2000 against Texas. It was also the fourth time in Oakland history that they’ve scored at least 21 in a game. For the Angels, it was the worst defeat in their history in terms of run differential. For the A’s, it was their second-biggest win ever after a 23-2 victory in that same 2000 game against the Rangers.
Every A’s starter had at least two hits, except for Matt Olson — who had one hit and walked three times — and they all scored at least once and had at least one RBI. Eight A’s hitters scored at least two runs, which hadn’t happened since 1929.
Leading the charge was Piscotty, who first broke the game open with his homer and also added a single and a walk. Shortstop Marcus Semien notched three hits and a career-high five RBIs. Catcher Josh Phegley and outfielder Nick Martini each picked up three hits and scored three times.
Martini added a particularly special highlight in the seventh, as the rookie blasted his first major league homer. By that point the Angels had called on a position player to pitch, with catcher Francisco Arcia taking a turn on the mound to try his hand at stopping Oakland’s relentless attack. Arcia, who later went deep himself in the ninth, became the first player in MLB history to pitch, catch, and hit a home run in the same game.
“Obviously it was a position player (who allowed the homer),” said Martini with a laugh. “But I saw it going up and I didn’t know if it was gonna have enough. And then once it got over, definitely super excited.”
The 28-year-old Martini, who helped spark each of the A’s first two rallies, is known more for his plate discipline and on-base ability than his power. It took him 48 games and 151 plate appearances to muscle that first dinger. Two pitches later, infield substitute Chad Pinder launched his own long ball off Arcia for the team’s 21st and final run.
“He’s been terrific,” said Melvin of Martini. “He’s been in the minor leagues for eight or nine years, finally gets an opportunity in the big leagues. That’s what you hope for. Guys come up here and get an opportunity and they seize it, and now he’s leading off for us and doing a great job. Got his first home run today, albeit off a position player. His at-bats are terrific. They tend to ignite rallies like they did again today.”
Backup catcher Beau Taylor also reached base for the first time in his big league career, drawing a walk in the sixth inning. It was his third plate appearance in the majors, after debuting at the beginning of the month.
On the other side of the ball, Edwin Jackson kept things relatively quiet. His day got off to a shaky start, as he allowed the Angels’ first two batters of the game to reach base, but he quickly calmed down and retired stars Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and Justin Upton to escape the jam. He ultimately cruised into the sixth inning, allowing two runs and tying his season-high with seven strikeouts.
“That was huge for us to get out of that (first) inning and get the boys back in the dugout to be able do the damage they did today,” said Jackson. “Hats off the offense, and always hats off to the defense, and hats off to Phegley behind the plate.”
Melvin also found time to praise the pitcher on a day when the offense stole the show.
“It looks like he’s gonna have a tough time getting out of that first inning without multiple runs potentially, and then he finds a way to right the ship,” said Melvin of Jackson. “A lot of times that’s a veteran guy who’s been through it, and we’ve talked about this before with him. He can take a deep breath and step back and kind of restart and reboot, and he did exactly that. And next thing you know he’s out there in the sixth inning.”
Oakland had gone through a brief slump over the last week, but that feels like a distant memory now. On Wednesday, they snapped a three-game skid with a 10-run outburst, and then they more than doubled that output on Thursday. All told they scored 38 runs in the three-game series. For context, the San Francisco Giants have scored 46 runs in all of September, spanning 17 games.
“You can’t just rely on a home run. If you do that you’re gonna go through some severe droughts, and knock wood we’ve been able to stay away from big droughts during the course of the season,” Melvin said. “It’s important to be able to score and at times manufacture runs, get singles, pass the baton, and that’s been the case the last couple nights.”
The A’s batted around in two different innings Thursday, and nearly did so a third. In the end they reached base 30 times, including 22 hits, seven walks, and an error, and only six of the 21 runs came on homers. It goes to show how well this group works together, and how dangerous they can be when they’re firing on all cylinders.
The A’s improved to 92-61, and their magic number is now four to clinch the second Wild Card with nine games to play, after the Toronto Blue Jays scored seven runs in the ninth inning to beat the Tampa Bay Rays, who are now 6 1/2 games back in the race. Oakland’s 58-25 record since mid-June is the best in the majors.
“Everyone on the team has a chance to shine,” said Jackson. “We don’t necessarily have one person hogging up all the shine. Every day it’s different people, and with everyone else, even the guys who aren’t necessarily getting hits that day, everyone is cheering everyone on and everyone is happy for everyone. I think when you have a team that everyone wants everyone to do well, then you have the chemistry that we have here. It’s a bunch of go-getters. These guys aren’t scared. They aren’t afraid of a challenge.”