OAKLAND — In the Oakland Athletics’ last game on Wednesday, Mark Canha collected the walk-off hit on his own T-Shirt giveaway day. On Friday, it was Mike Fiers’ turn to shine in similar fashion.
On a night when the promotional giveaway was a Fiers bobblehead commemorating his no-hitter, the right-hander nearly repeated that sparkling performance in front of almost 30,000 fans at the Coliseum.
Fiers threw eight shutout innings against the Texas Rangers, allowing just two hits in an 8-0 A’s victory in the opener of Oakland’s final home series of the 2019 regular season. He faced the minimum 24 batters in those eight frames, striking out five along the way and throwing just 95 pitches. No Texas runner even reached second base.
“It’s kind of cool that they did that for me,” said Fiers of his bobblehead night. “Not that it gave me an extra lift, I think the playoffs is more than enough.”
The win kept the A’s two games up for the first American League wild card with eight games left to play. Oakland’s magic number is seven if the A’s want to maintain home-field advantage in the play-in game, over both the Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians, who are tied for the second spot.
Fiers’ gem was especially welcome considering he exited his last start early due to an injury concern. On Saturday, also against the Rangers in Arlington, he was pulled in the second inning after reporting numbness in his right hand, later diagnosed as arm nerve irritation. After a clean MRI and a successful bullpen session he was cleared to make his next start, and he showed his usual velocity while completely stymieing the Texas lineup.
“No issues at all leading up to [tonight]. It’s something he said he had felt in the past but it didn’t hang around long, so we were cautiously optimistic,” said manager Bob Melvin. “Certainly pitched really well tonight, so hopefully that’s in the past.”
The Rangers barely even managed any hard contact off of Fiers, with Shin-Soo Choo responsible for the only two batted balls above 100 mph exit velocity. Choo singled in the first inning but was erased by a double play, and then in the third inning Delino DeShields singled but was picked off first base. Nobody else reached base or hit anything harder than 97 mph off the bat, as Fiers retired the final 16 batters he faced.
“When he’s got all his pitches going like he did tonight, his slider and his changeup with his fastball and his curveball, he’s a tough guy to deal with,” said Melvin.
In Fiers’ final home start of the regular season, he lowered his ERA at the Coliseum to 2.90 in 17 outings, against a 5.24 mark on the road.
“I like pitching here,” said Fiers. “I feel comfortable. The weather’s great, it’s not humid. It just feels like home, and I love pitching here.”
The effort reversed a recent slump for Fiers, who had posted an 8.88 ERA over his previous six outings, finishing six innings only once during that span. Before that skid, Fiers had been the A’s most consistent starter, tossing quality starts in 18 out of 19 appearances.
“My last three starts haven’t been ideal, so I wanted to show these guys I’ve still got it,” said Fiers.
With a big lead in hand and no reason to push Fiers too far for a complete game, Chris Bassitt came in for the ninth inning. Bassitt has been a starter all year but was recently squeezed out of the rotation, and in his season debut out of the bullpen, he set a season-high for velocity (97.3), retiring the side in order with two strikeouts.
“We want to keep him going, don’t want him sitting around too long,” said Melvin. “Kind of what we expected, we thought his velo might pick up a little bit without having to go out and pace himself.”
Oakland’s lineup jumped all over Rangers All-Star starter Mike Minor, beating the lefty for the third time in as many tries this season, and for his second straight appearance after they tagged him for seven runs last weekend. On Friday, Minor allowed six runs in five innings of work.
“We’re really the only team that’s kind of beaten him up a little bit, the last two times out,” Melvin said. “He bullies you inside, he’s got a great changeup, he’s got a breaking ball he can throw in any count. His numbers are very indicative of the way he’s pitched, and he pitches in a tough ballpark to pitch in too, so we’ve been fortunate enough to score some runs off him the last couple times out.”
Chad Pinder led the way with a three-run homer in the second inning, and Canha added an RBI double down the right-field line and a solo homer down the left-field line. The long ball was his 25th of the season, giving the A’s four players with 25 or more homers for the first time since 2000 and only the third time in franchise history.
Marcus Semien added an RBI double, giving him 40 two-baggers for the season to go with his 31 homers. It’s only the fifth time that an A’s player has racked up 30 homers and 40 doubles in a season, after Al Simmons did it twice for the Philadelphia A’s and Eric Chavez and Jason Giambi did it in 2001. Factor in Semien’s seven triples, and only Simmons can match that collection of stats in franchise history. Semien’s 78 extra-base hits are tied for the fourth-most in Oakland history.
The offensive onslaught came after the A’s had scored just three runs in their last 20 innings entering Friday’s game. They’d played 16 days in a row before getting an off-day on Thursday, and managed just eight total runs in their three-game series against the Kansas City Royals earlier this week.
“Looked like offensively we were a little sluggish, so I think the off-day helped,” said Melvin. “Usually this time of year you really don’t want the off-days, you want to just keep playing, but I think we really needed one.”
The A’s and Rangers play two more games this weekend before Oakland heads on the road for the final week of their regular season schedule. With another bobblehead giveaway coming up on Sunday, this time honoring the laser throwing arm of Ramon Laureano, another Athletic will have the chance to follow Canha and Fiers by going big on his promotional night.
Oakland was be without relief pitcher Lou Trivino, who recently suffered a fall in the shower hurt his ribs and oblique. The right-hander last pitched on Saturday.