By Brent Dedmon
Special to S.F. Examiner
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Entering Wednesday night, the Oakland Athletics had not lost more than two games in a row since July 24-26, when they dropped three straight.
With the regular season coming to an end on Sunday, the Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians within a single game of the A’s in the AL wild card race.
After a heartbreaking loss on Wednesday, in a game that meant virtually nothing to one team and almost everything to another, the A’s stole a 3-2 victory over the Angels in the ninth thanks to a two-run homer from the slumping Matt Chapman. With a win by Tampa Bay, the win kept Oakland tied for the top wild card spot.
“It feels great,” said Chapman, who came in hitting .123 in the month of September. “I haven’t been playing as well as I’d like to, but that doesn’t matter. It’s about winning baseball games. To get that win, to keep the lead in the wild card, everybody was pretty excited and we’ll hopefully carry that momentum into these last four games.”
Three outs away from a loss — what would have been their third in a row for the first time since July — Marcus Semien led off the ninth with a single. Chapman slugged the first pitch he saw from closer Hansel Robles — who had an AL-best 1.17 ERA since June 1 — over the center field wall.
“Big time players show up like that,” manager Bob Melvin said. “Some of the stuff he’s been doing shows up in the score of the game and not necessarily in the stat line, but that was a big one obviously for us.”
Oakland (72-86) gave the ball to Frankie Montas (9-2, 2.63 ERA) for his first start since being einstated from the restricted after serving an 80-game PED suspension, and he picked up right where he left off.
Before the suspension, Montas had won five games and posted a sparkling 2.62 ERA in seven starts. On Wednesday, he scattered four hits and two walks over six innings, allowing just one run and striking out six on his way to a no-decision.
“It feels good to be back; it feels good to be on the mound pitching in real games,” Montas said. “My fastball was running, the speed was good. The slider wasn’t moving as I was expecting, but I was fighting out there.”
Montas’ only hiccup was a one-out solo home run to Taylor Ward in the bottom of the second, his first of the year. That put the Halos up 1-0 after two.
“He was terrific,” manager BobMelvin said. “Really, I was hoping for five [innings], and I got six. He got better as the game went along and I really did not expect six today, and it was a much needed six.”
The A’s had won eight of their last nine games against left-handed starters, and were 33-13 on the season against southpaws. Los Angeles lefty Andrew Heaney (4-6, 4.91 ERA), though, held serve and worked out of trouble, giving up just one run on a solo blast by Ramon Laureano in the fifth — his 22nd of the year — which tied the game 1-1, but that was all Heaney would allow, striking out seven while allowing six hits and a walk.
The A’s offense — which ranks in the top 5 in almost every offensive statistical category including home runs, doubles, runs, extra base hits, OPS, on-base percentage, and slugging — had trouble finding the timely hit for most of the night Wednesday, and there was no shortage of chances.
Oakland stranded a pair of runners in each of the first three innings and another pair in the sixth. In the seventh, after a one-out walk to Laureano, Chapman and Matt Olson collected back-to-back singles to load the bases. Angels’ Manager Brad Ausmus burned through five relievers in the sixth and seventh, and the last of those was Noe Ramirez, who induced an inning-ending double play off the bat of Mark Canha to strand two more. In all, the A’s stranded 11.
“We haven’t had trouble getting guys on base, we’ve just had trouble getting them [to score] the last couple days,” Melvin said. “Sometimes you start to press a little bit as a group.”
The Angels took the lead in their half of the seventh, when Oakland reliever Yusmeiro Petit gave up a leadoff double to first baseman Jared Walsh before allowing a one-out double to Kaleb Cowart two batters later.
Then Chapman hit his 35th homer of the season.
“We definitely had a lot of opportunities that we didn’t cash in on,” Chapman said. “I was trying to do my part, not trying to do too much, and I was luckily able to get a good pitch and did more than I expected.”
Closer Liam Hendriks retired the Angels in order, collecting his 24th save of the season, and catapulting his club back into the top position in the AL wild card standings with four games to play.
With the win, the A’s close the books on the season series with the Angels, taking 13 of 19, and head to Seattle for a four-game set against the lowly Mariners (66-92) that will close out the regular season schedule. Oakland will send lefty Sean Manaea (3-1, 1.14 ERA) to the bump on Thursday in the series opener to battle Felix Hernandez (1-7, 6.51 ERA) in a 7 p.m. start.