Ramon Laureano capitalized on a surprising managerial decision and hit a tie-breaking grand slam in the top of the eighth inning on Wednesday, giving the Oakland Athletics their sixth win out of 10 games on a road trip that included a doubleheader, sleepless nights, plane malfunctions and even a batting practice session canceled by bees.
Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash called on lefty Colin Poche with the bases loaded instead of letting Laureano face right-hander Chaz Roe, who had let the prior two men reach. Instead of facing a slider that could devastate right-handed hitters, Laureano got to face Poche and hammered his 2-2 offering into the seats in left to give the visiting A’s a 6-2 lead they would not relinquish.
Laureano’s first career slam ensured not only a winning road trip for the A’s, but also a series victory over a Rays team that they’ll need to put up strong results against in order to reach the playoffs. Tampa Bay (41-26) entered the day leading the AL East, and the Rays made a late charge last season before the A’s held them off for the second Wild Card spot.
The hosts had tied the game in the bottom of the seventh after six impressive innings from A’s starter Brett Anderson, who combined with impressive infield defense to get eight ground ball outs. After Daniel Robertson’s groundout to start the seventh, the bottom two hitters in the order reached as Guillermo Heredia walked and Christian Arroyo singled to center. That ended Anderson’s day at 93 pitches and exactly three times through the order. Liam Hendriks would allow both runners to score.
Yandy Diaz doubled to center for his third hit of the day to score Heredia, and after a strikeout of Tommy Pham, who also had three hits on the afternoon, Oakland (35-34) elected to intentionally walk likely All-Star Austin Meadows to load the bases. Avisail Garcia hit a grounder deep in the hole, and Marcus Semien’s attempt to get the force out at second was late, allowing the hosts to tie the game. Hendriks struck out Travis d’Arnaud to end the inning, and he ended up being credited as the winning pitcher after Laureano’s grand slam.
Lefty Adam Kolarek was charged with the loss in relief, allowing a single to Matt Olson on the only pitch he threw. Roe was then called on, and he struck Khris Davis out on a slider before walking Stephen Piscotty. A wild pitch advanced Olson and Piscotty into scoring position and led Cash to call for an intentional walk to Robbie Grossman, but rather than letting Roe stay in to face the right-hander, he called for Poche, a move he would quickly regret.
Not only did Olson single to start the decisive rally, he also homered off Rays starter Yonny Chirinos in the sixth to give the A’s a 2-0 lead, his fourth homer in six games. The visitors had scored the game’s first run in the fourth as Davis led off the inning with a double and advanced to third on a Piscotty flyout. Grossman struck out, but Laureano’s infield hit would bring Davis home and give the center fielder the first of his five RBIs.
The Rays would threaten once more after Laureano’s slam, getting a leadoff single from Willy Adames off Lou Trivino in the eighth. Robertson’s sharp grounder to Olson, his former teammate as an A’s prospect, would turn into a 3-6-3 double play, but Heredia would single and Arroyo’s slow chopper would go for an infield hit. That brought Diaz up with the tying run on deck, but Trivino would freeze him with a fastball on the outside corner. Blake Treinen pitched a 1-2-3 inning with strikeouts of Meadows and Garcia to end the game. The A’s managed to hold Meadows hitless over the three-game series, walking him twice, once intentionally.