OAKLAND — Liam Hendriks punched the air with his right arm, spun around to his left and let out a scream.
The groundout that ended the A’s series-clinching win over the New York Yankees capped a five-out save for Hendriks, who entered the game with runners on first and third in the eighth and proceeded to retire the next five men in order — the 1-5 hitters in the Yankees lineup.
Out of the shadow of A.J. Puk’s major-league debut on Wednesday night, Hendriks — designated for assignment 14 months ago — emerged with the best performance of his All-Star season — perhaps of his career. His five-out save secured a series win over the best team in the American League just three days after the A’s took three of four from the AL West-leading Houston Astros.
“When you come into that kind of situation,” Hendriks said, “it’s always nice to get out of it.”
While the argument for Oakland’s most important player begins with players like Matt Chapman, Marcus Semien and Mike Fiers, Hendriks is firmly in the mix because of outings like his performance Wednesday night.
His ascent has gone a long way to hold together a bullpen that has suffered injuries and inconsistency from its top two arms of 2018 – Lou Trivino and Blake Treinen.
“It’s just been a nice rise for him to get into this role,” said manager Bob Melvin. “Certainly for us, too, because I don’t know where we’d be without him.”
Tasked with shutting down the Yankees after a shaky debut from Puk, Hendriks struck out the top two hitters in the Yankees lineup – D.J. LeMahieu and Aaron Judge – to end the inning.
Against Judge – who had tagged him for a two-run blast in their last matchup in a 7-2 loss in the 2018 AL Wild Card Game – Hendriks was undeterred.
“Obviously you know who he is, but it’s still a guy with a number and a bat,” Hendriks said of Judge. “It doesn’t matter what his name is. It doesn’t matter how big he is. My job is to go out there and get him out.”
On strike three, he unleashed a scream and swung clenched fists to his side.
“My biggest thing is I was trying to make sure I didn’t get too amped,” Hendriks said. “Once you scream and then you have to go back out again it’s not always the best scenario.”
Hendriks’ “emotional attack” would not come back to bite him, as he registered a clean ninth inning, retiring the heart of the New York order to complete the save.
“Going out there for a five-out save, it’s not the usual but it’s not something I’ve shied away from,” Hendriks said. “Whether it be a save situation or any other time throughout the game I’m going to be ready no matter what.”
Indeed, Hendriks has been used in a multitude of situations throughout the year, including six outings of two or more innings, the latest on July 3 against the Minnesota Twins.
Such a mentality has led to a breakout year for Hendriks, who was designated for assignment last June, only to return with refreshed mechanics, a renewed attitude and a bit more velocity to serve as Oakland’s opener down the stretch, a role he played in the wild card game, as well.
Now, in his first All-Star season, the Australian righty sports a 1.48 ERA and 93 strikeouts. Since being named the closer, Hendriks has 15 saves, a 1.40 ERA and 45 strikeouts to just two walks in 25 2/3 innings.
“We’re a bunch of misfit toys over here,” Hendriks said. “We’re just going out there and doing what we need to do.”
If the A’s are to make a deep run in October, Hendriks will be a big reason why.
“I’ll be ready no matter what,” Hendriks said. “I just wait for the phone call.”