OAKLAND — Before hitting the go-ahead home run in Thursday’s 5-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman had just one hit in his last 31 at-bats.
When asked about his All-Star’s funk Thursday morning, Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin simply shrugged. “That’s baseball,” he said, just a consequence of a long season with ups and downs.
When Chapman drove the first pitch he saw from All-Star closer Josh Hader over the center field wall in the eighth mere hours later, he capped off a comeback and a series win against one of the best closers in the game, and a team one game out of first in the NL Central. He also salvaged new acquisition Homer Bailey’s third quality start at home and earned previously-struggling reliever Blake Treinen his third win in as many outings.
“I’d probably say that was my fifth at-bat against him, and I’m pretty sure he struck me out four times,” Chapman said. “I think maybe I was due.”
Chapman — who had hit just .091 (3-for-33) since June 22 — had struck out 13 times in his 31 at-bats over eight games before facing Hader. He had gone through a similar lull early last season, going 1-for-27 between April 29 and May 7, and he wound up hitting 22 home runs and driven in 68.
“You’d think he’s been around 10 years, but it’s only his second full season,” said third-base coach Matt Williams, one of Chapman’s mentors. “The defense speaks for itself, for sure. But, offensively, he’s getting to know himself.”
He went 0-for-3 against Brewers starter Chase Anderson, as the A’s mustered just two hits and four baserunners in the first six innings. Apart from Chad Pinder — who smoked a 431-foot solo homer in the third — only one Oakland runner got past second against him.
Bailey was constantly under siege, with at least one baserunner reaching in four of his six innings, but he was able to escape trouble thanks to his splitter, allowing just an RBI single in the first before striking out Eric Thames and a sacrifice fly in the fourth before getting reigning MVP Christian Yelich to roll out to first with two men on.
After a bases-loaded wild pitch by Jake Diekman added an insurance run for the Brewers in the seventh, the A’s returned the favor in the bottom of the frame thanks to a two-out wild pitch with men on second and third. Marcus Semien, though, grounded out to strand pinch runner Franklin Barreto at third.
Treinen worked around a one-out single in the eighth for his third straight scoreless inning in three appearances, and then came Chapman. After seeing Hader walk Robbie Grossman just ahead of him on Thursday, unable to throw his slider for a strike, he thought to his last plate appearance against the 25-year old lefty.
Just before Matt Olson sent the A’s home with their eighth walkoff of the season on Tuesday, Chapman had struck out, but he saw seven pitches.
“He started me off with a fastball last time I faced him and got ahead,” Chapman said. “… I was trying to jump on something early.”
After being robbed of a line-drive base hit in the sixth on a ball that nearly took off second baseman Keston Hiura’s glove, Chapman sent the first offering he saw from Hader high off the concrete behind the center field wall, 409 feet away for the go-ahead blast.
“Last couple games haven’t been going as you’d draw it up,” Chapman said. “Hitting a few balls hard, and not getting any love, but that’s how baseball goes. It always comes back around … I believe that was the first ball I’ve ever put in play against him.”
The homer — projected to go 432 feet had it not been stopped — gave Chapman 11 go-ahead home runs, tied with Mike Trout for the second-most in the American League, and just maybe broke him out of his funk. He’d hit just two home runs since the start of July.
“If you would ask him, I don’t think he’d say he’s where he wants to be yet,” Williams said, “but he’s taking the steps to get there.”
The homer was Chapman’s first since June 28, his first hit in 17 at-bats and the 11th home run Hader had surrendered, out of the 26 hits he’d given up this season. The last? Olson’s Tuesday walkoff.