Chad Pinder’s walk-off single earns Athletics a sweep over Rangers

Oakland A’s and Texas Rangers combine for five home runs in series finale

OAKLAND — With the score tied in the bottom of the ninth inning, Stephen Piscotty singled and then alertly stole second base, marking his first steal of the season. With two outs, left fielder Chad Pinder — part of the Oakland Athletics’ ubiquitous platoon system — reached down for a pitch just above his ankles and lined it softly into short right-center field to bring Piscotty home.

“I was trying to stay short and put a good swing on a pitch that I could handle,” said Pinder of the first walk-off hit of his career.

The ball was flying at the Oakland Coliseum on Wednesday afternoon, with the Athletics and Texas Rangers combining for five home runs on a sunny 79-degree day, but in the end it was that humble single that earned the A’s a 6-5 win.

“You feel good about him at the plate in that at-bat,” said manager Bob Melvin, who praised Pinder’s smarts and situational awareness. “He’s not gonna try to do too much. After Stephen steals second base all he needs is a single, predominantly gonna get pitched away, and he’s just trying to poke it over there.”

The A’s win — which included homers from Marcus Semien and Matt Chapman — completed a three-game sweep over the Rangers, flipping the script after Oakland was swept by the Toronto Blue Jays in their previous series over the weekend. The A’s is now back over .500, with a 14-13 record.

“It’s big,” said Pinder of the sweep. “We always say just win each series, but when you take those three losses from the Blue Jays, there’s a little bit of a sense of urgency that we need to clean it up a little bit at home.”

Before Pinder’s small-ball heroics, the story of the day was the power display by both teams. Oakland’s first long ball came in the second inning, when Semien drilled a liner that squeaked just to the right of the foul pole in left field. That three-run shot gave the A’s a 3-1 lead at the time.

“He’s playing his best baseball now, and he continues to do that,” Melvin said of Semien, who raised his batting average to .311 on the year. “Last year, to that point, that was his best baseball. This year, he’s added to that. He’s a smart player, he understands what he needs to work on. Nobody’s gonna outwork him.”

Texas tied things up after Semien’s blast, but then Chapman added one of his own to retake the lead. His came in the fifth inning, to the opposite field off former A’s pitcher Jesse Chavez.

“I’d say he’s one of the better players in the league and I think you’re gonna be talking about him in MVP conversations for years to come,” Melvin said of Chapman, who now sports a 1.040 OPS and eight homers on top of his unparalleled defense. “He’s an elite player.”

Texas also did its share of slugging on Wednesday; Nomar Mazara left the yard twice, and Logan Forsythe added a homer as well, but all were solo shots.

A’s starting pitcher Aaron Brooks struck out seven of the 21 batters he faced over five innings, but when the Rangers did hit the ball, they made it count. In the second inning Brooks allowed a double to Forsythe that just missed clearing the fence. Forsythe didn’t miss his next time up in the fourth, sending the ball 432 feet for a no-doubter. Meanwhile, Mazara homered off Brooks in the third inning, and then added another off reliever Yusmeiro Petit in the sixth.

“[I f]eel like I made some good pitches when I had to,” said Brooks. “The homer to Mazara I thought was a decent pitch, he just got his bat on it. He’s a good hitter, so he must have been looking for something out there and he did something with it. The other homer [to Forsythe] was kinda just a ball that got away from me sitting in the middle of the plate.”

Despite some hard contact, it was no coincidence that Brooks kept the damage to a minimum. In addition to striking out one-third of his batters, he also issued no walks and benefited from a nice diving catch by Pinder in left. The A’s have won three of Brooks’ five starts this year.

“He ends up leaving with the lead,” said Melvin of Brooks. “Maybe not his best outing today, but he kept us in the game.”

The A’s made things interesting for themselves in the late innings. Nursing a slim 5-4 lead in the seventh, reliever Joakim Soria began the inning by walking catcher Jeff Mathis, a career .198 hitter. A sacrifice bunt and a groundout moved Mathis to third base, and then Soria uncorked a wild pitch that allowed him to score. On the very next pitch, Soria earned a strikeout to end the inning, setting up Pinder’s heroics.

After splitting their eight-game homestand, the A’s now travel to Toronto for an encore against the Blue Jays. Top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is expected to make his MLB debut for the Jays on Friday.

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