OAKLAND — Matt Chapman has already accomplished a lot in his short major league career, but on Friday he achieved a personal first.
Leading off the 12th inning against All-Star closer Brad Hand, Chapman launched a majestic blast deep into the left field seats. The homer sealed a 4-3 win for the Oakland Athletics in their series opener against the Cleveland Indians, cueing a postgame fireworks show for the season-high 36,913 fans in attendance at the Coliseum.
“First walk-off homer ever,” Chapman said. “I never thought I’d ever do it, so it felt pretty good. I didn’t even know what to do around the bases. I didn’t even know what to do with my hands. So I was pumped up, but that’s about as much emotion as you’re gonna get from me on a baseball field.”
It was the first game-ending RBI of Chapman’s career, and also his 10th long ball of the season, tying Khris Davis for the team lead.
Chapman said he was just trying to get on base against Hand, who hadn’t yet allowed a homer this year in 17 appearances. Instead, the lefty hung a 3-2 slider in the middle of the zone and the A’s third baseman got all of it. The 427-foot rocket came off the bat with an impressive 108 mph exit velocity.
“I was still on the fastball to be honest with you, but I knew [the slider is] his go-to pitch and don’t be surprised by it,” said Chapman, who noted that he finds his best success when he doesn’t try to do too much. “I was just trying to battle and trying to put a good swing on the ball.”
The win marks the third walk-off victory for the A’s this season, and the second in their last three games. On Wednesday, Stephen Piscotty delivered a walk-off jack to defeat the Cincinnati Reds in the 13th.
“We’ve been playing a lot of extra-inning games lately it feels like, we’ve been grinding a little bit,” Chapman said. “To be able to come out on top of those games is huge.”
Oakland is now 2-3 in extra-inning contests this season, with three of those affairs coming in their last five games.
A strong pitching performance kept the A’s close all night, led by starter Frankie Montas, who threw six innings and allowed just two runs. As usual, he dialed his fastball up as high as 98 mph several times, and his slider also proved effective at generating swings and misses — five of his seven strikeouts came courtesy of a whiff on a slider.
“He’s a different guy this year,” said manager Bob Melvin, who praised Montas’ ability to settle down after a tough second inning in which he allowed two runs on four hits. “You can see the toughness in him now, and the confidence in him. Even though he gave up a couple runs early, I think he expected to go out and do what he did.”
It was the seventh time in the last 13 games that an A’s starter has registered a quality start, far above the league average clip of 38%. For Montas, it was his team-leading fifth quality start in eight appearances this year, and his 2.78 ERA is the 14th-best among qualified Major League starters.
“Just trying to give the team a chance to win,” said Montas.
The bullpen blew the save after Montas exited with the lead, but they held the tie long enough for the A’s to come through later. Set-up man Lou Trivino allowed a double to Kevin Plawecki to lead off the seventh, and he moved to third on a sacrifice bunt. Francisco Lindor then lofted a fly ball to left fielder Robbie Grossman, who delivered a perfect strike to home plate, but just a split-second too late to nab Plawecki, who scored the tying run to make it 3-3.
After Trivino got out of the seventh, Ryan Buchter, Blake Treinen and Joakim Soria combined to retire all 15 batters they faced to set up Chapman’s heroics in the bottom of the 12th.
Soria, who worked the final two frames, has now thrown seven straight scoreless innings in his last five games since blowing a save against the Texas Rangers on April 24. During that span, he’s struck out nine batters and allowed just two hits and a HBP, and lowered his ERA from 7.30 to 4.66.
“You can see it. He’s got some confidence, he’s got some life in him right now,” manager Bob Melvin said of Soria, who struggled to begin his tenure with the A’s this year after signing a hefty free agent contract. “You get off to a slow start with a new team, and it can be a little bit demoralizing. But he has a long history of doing what he’s doing right now.”
The A’s opened the scoring in the first inning. Marcus Semien launched a double off the wall in left-center to lead off the game for Oakland, then moved to third base on a groundout, and finally came around to score on a wild pitch.
After Cleveland briefly took the lead against Montas in the top of the second, Oakland quickly answered back to tie it in the bottom half. This time it was Grossman doubling over the head of Indians center fielder Leonys Martin, then scoring on a single by catcher Josh Phegley to knot the game at 2-2.
That tie remained until the sixth inning, when Ramon Laureano drilled a homer 408 feet to center field for his fourth of the season and first in nearly a month. Piscotty nearly added one of his own in the 10th, for what would have been his second walk-off blast in three days, but it came down just in front of the wall, 383 feet from the plate.
The A’s and Indians will play two more games this weekend. Aaron Brooks starts for Oakland against All-Star Trevor Bauer on Saturday, and Daniel Mengden will come up from Triple-A to start for the A’s on Sunday.