OAKLAND — As Oakland Athletics outfielder Mark Canha embraced Matt Olson behind the second base bag, the first baseman lifted him into the air.
After playing 10 scoreless innings in just over three hours, the usually-demonstrative Canha — who took two hit-by-pitches on Tuesday — was content with a relatively understated celebration, having driven in the deciding run in a 1-0, 11-inning win over the Kansas City Royals.
Canha’s 1-2 double down the right field line clinched followed a virtuoso performance on the mound from starter Homer Bailey, who continues to prove to be one of Oakland’s most valuable late-season additions. The win also clinched the series where all three games were decided by one run, and kept the A’s two games up in the American League wild card.
“It was emotional, it was tiring, it was just awesome,” Canha said. “I think it was just relief … right before an off day, we were clinging to that game with everything we had.”
Canha — like Jurickson Profar the night before — had a home run taken away by Alex Gordon in the seventh, when the Kansas City left fielder went face-first into the wall. Through the first nine innings, Oakland could only muster two hits — both by Marcus Semien. A day after being shut out for six innings by Jorge Lopez, the A’s were shut out for seven more by starter Danny Duffy.
Oakland, though, had a counter in Bailey. Apart from one ghastly start in Houston — his second with the A’s after a deadline trade from these same Royals — the right-hander has been arguably one of Oakland’s best pitchers down the stretch. Outside of that start against the Astros, Bailey has struck out 65 in 66 1/3 innings while sporting a 3.12 ERA, including his best performance of the year on Wednesday.
Bailey fanned a season-high 11 — one shy of his career high in strikeouts and the most he’s fanned this season — while allowing just three hits and one (intentional) walk in seven shutout innings, throwing 95 pitches. Eight of Bailey’s strikeouts came on his splitter — a bellwether pitch.
Still, he did need a bit of a lift from his defense.
In what proved to be Bailey’s only jam of the day with two on and two outs in the seventh, the A’s righty gave up a sinking liner to left by first baseman Ryan O’Hearn for what looked to be a sure RBI single. Chad Pinder came on to make a sprawling, stretching, diving grab to end the frame.
“It’s a game-saver,” said manager Bob Melvin.
“I’ve seen him make that play so many times this year, but I really didn’t think he had a chance,” Canha said.
Bailey punched his glove and screamed, then made a point of shaking Pinder’s hand as he came off the field.
“Very big sigh of relief,” Bailey said.
Canha and Ramon Laureano led off the 10th with singles, but a nifty flip from Whit Merrifield to Adalberto Mondesi on a grounder up the middle by Sean Murphy, and Robbie Grossman grounded out to end the threat.
After two shutout innings from Yusmeiro Petit (four strikeouts) and a pair of strikeouts from Jake Diekman, JB Wendelken — after finishing the 10th — got into a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the top of the 11th.
Chris Bassitt began warming in the bullpen.
The former starter had volunteered on his own accord three days prior to head to the bullpen, after former closer Blake Treinen underwent tests that uncovered a stress reaction in his back, forcing him to shut down for the next two weeks. As Bassitt heated up, Wendelken proved he wasn’t needed, fanning the dangerous Jorge Soler (owner of 45 home runs) to keep things scoreless.
Profar walked to lead off the bottom of the 11th, and with two outs, reliever Jesse Hahn — a former Oakland starter — gave an intentional free pass to Olson.
One of six A’s with 20 or more home runs on the year, Canha had slashed .299/.419/.481, hitting seven home runs and driving in 24 since taking over as the everyday center fielder for a then-injured Ramon Laureano on July 30.
Before he got the game-winning knock, though, he was 2-for-11 dating back to Sept. 15.
“I just kept telling myself, ‘Be patient, be patient, don’t get frustrated, just hang in there get an opportunity,’” Canha said. “’Keep grinding away,’ because we can’t give one away.”
Canha had seen Hahn — a former Oakland starter — drop in a sinker away to both Matt Chapman and Semien en route to back-to-back strikeouts. “I thought, ‘That’s what he likes to do, so I’m going to look for that one,’” Canha said. He got it.
When the San Jose native returned to the locker room after a post-game on-field interview, the entire team and clubhouse staff was wearing the white “Hometown Hero” giveaway shirts — the same shirts fans waved at him from the outfield all game.
“From this point on we can try to can’t afford to lay back and give one away,” Canha said. “… We had to find a way to win that game.”