OAKLAND — The Oakland Athletics don’t have a lot of big-name superstars, but they have quality up and down their roster, and it showed on Saturday.
“We use all 25 [players on the roster], and all of these guys are important at certain times,” said manager Bob Melvin.
Starter Mike Fiers pitched brilliantly into the sixth but couldn’t quite tally his 14th straight quality start. Then, four relievers took the baton, finishing off an 8-3 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in which seven of the nine A’s starters reached base at least twice and seven players either scored or drove in a run.
“We use everybody,” said Fiers. “Everyone’s gotta be ready, no matter what inning, no matter what the situation. Everybody knows that here, and that’s why I think these guys are good off the bench, because they know Bob will use them.”
Fiers has a 2.42 ERA over his last 18 outings, dating back to late April, and his 3.46 ERA for the season ranks 10th among all qualified American League starters.
He kept the Cardinals off the board for the first five innings, until a rally in the sixth brought home a run and knocked him out of the game. St. Louis barely had any hard contact against him, with just two balls hit with exit velocities over 100 mph, and he offered them no extra help by issuing just one walk. The right-hander also struck out four.
“When I’m the aggressor and I’m throwing all my pitches and I’m locating, then I feel like I’m one of the best pitchers in this league,” said Fiers. “And with the guys behind me, I feel like we can win every game.”
Despite his stretch of dominance, Melvin had been hoping to pull Fiers earlier than normal after a recent heavy workload, and asked his bullpen — which has an AL-leading 21 blown saves — to get 10 outs. Jake Diekman escaped Fiers’ jam in the sixth, and then he, Yusmeiro Petit, Joakim Soria and Wei-Chung Wang combined to allow just two runs over the final three frames.
“Tough to take a guy like that out, but we felt like we had the right guys behind him,” Melvin. “He’s been as good a pitcher as any in the American League really, for probably three months to this point.”
Petit inherited a two-on, no-out situation in the seventh with the game still close at 5-1, and got out of it with just one run scoring. He now carries a 2.59 ERA and has stranded 31 of his 44 inherited runners this season, better than the major league average. Those 44 inherited runners are by far the most for any reliever in the majors this year.
“He’s been doing it all year,” said Melvin. “We don’t do him any favors. Seems like every time we bring him into a game it’s with runners on base, and that’s what he does for us. It’s not the easiest role in the world, but he accepts it and he’s good at it, and as long as he’s doing it in that fashion, we’re gonna keep using him like that. He’s not afraid of the moment either.”
While the pitching staff kept the Cardinals quiet, the Oakland lineup made noise early and often. The A’s put together two-run rallies in each of the first two innings against St. Louis starter Dakota Hudson, eventually knocking him out in the fourth. Then they got to work against the bullpen, plating a run in the fifth and then adding ample insurance in the seventh with a three-run pinch-hit homer by Chad Pinder, his second pinch-hit roundtripper of the year.
“These guys are always ready,” said Fiers of his teammates. “They have that mindset. They’re not sulking because they’re not playing or starting, they’re always ready to go when the call comes. That’s what you need with a winning ballclub.”
Mark Canha, filling in for the injured Ramon Laureano in center field, got the evening’s scoring started with a bases-loaded single in the first inning to knock in a pair.
“He really is a band-aid for whatever we need,” said Melvin of Canha, who has started at least eight games at each of five different positions this season, and covered for injuries to everyone from Matt Olson, to Khris Davis, to Stephen Piscotty and now Laureano. “He’s big for this team and he produces no matter where we put him.”
Piscotty, playing in his first game back from a month-long stint on the injured list, added two hits, a HBP and a nice running catch in right field.
“You wanna see a guy get off to a good start after he’s been out for a while,” said Melvin of Piscotty. “Just kind of getting back into the action and having a good game your first game back goes a long way for your confidence.”
While the A’s offense did plenty of damage on its own, they also got some help from the Cardinals along the way. With runners on the corners in the second inning, a passed ball by catcher Matt Wieters allowed the runner to score from third base. Then in the fifth, with runners on the corners and two outs, Chris Herrmann drilled a sharp grounder that third baseman Tommy Edman couldn’t corral cleanly, allowing Herrmann to beat the throw for a single and the runner to score from third.
The A’s and Cardinals play one more game on Sunday, and Oakland can sweep the four-game season series if they win that final matchup. Tanner Roark will take the mound in his Oakland debut, after being acquired from the Cincinnati Reds at the trade deadline on Wednesday, and he’ll face long-time St. Louis veteran Adam Wainwright.