OAKLAND — Ever since the early 2000s, the Oakland Athletics locker room has had what’s been called a collegiate atmosphere. In the case of Dustin Garneau — who used that descriptor himself Sunday morning — it’s almost literal.
The A’s new catcher — acquired Saturday off waivers from the Angels — shares an alma mater with Khris Davis and Matt Chapman. His new teammates and new manager gave him resounding reviews upon arrival. If the locker room is collegiate, Garneau seemed the class president as soon as he arrived.
In Sunday’s 4-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals, Garneau — a career .202 hitter — reached base in three out of his plate appearances, drove in the go-ahead RBI, scored an insurance run and sheparded fellow newcomer Tanner Roark through a five-inning, six-strikeout, one-run performance, as the A’s won their sixth game in their last seven.
“I just tried not to suck, and get a big win for the team,” said Garneau, who has never been as close to the playoffs as he is with the wild card-chasing A’s. “That’s what we both did, and it was a fun time.”
Davis, Garneau’s teammate at Cal State Fullerton, raved about Garneau’s leadership, toughness and work ethic. Josh Phegley — whose thumb injury opened a roster spot — called Garneau as soon as he heard he’d been designated for assignment by the Angels. He told him to get ready. The A’s needed him. Upon Garneau’s arrival, manager Bob Melvin likened him to Jonathan Lucroy.
“I feel like I have to break in another catcher every year, and he knows how we go about things, so it makes it easier on us,” Melvin said.
With two on and two out in the third, Paul Goldschmidt fouled off nine pitches — including eight in a row — in the midst of a 14-pitch walk, part of a 35-pitch inning. Roark — who said he shook off Garneau just three times all day — did not shake him off once in the frame.
Garneau didn’t want to go at the next hitter, Marcell Ozuna, with the fastballs and sliders he saw while on deck. He changed things up, staring Ozuna off with a changeup and then calling for a pair of curves to get him swinging, and left the field to the crowd chanting.
“Pretty good for our first time working together,” said Roark, with whom who Garneau spent much of Saturday night’s game speaking about the Cardinals. “It was just trusting Garneau.”
Roark allowed just one run on four hits in five innings, but threw 109 pitches. It was the sixth time this year that Roark — a self-professed career-long grinder who’s averaged 18 pitches per inning this season — has topped 100, including a 102-pitch game against St. Louis on July 8.
“You’ve got to keep going, and the hitter’s got to know that nothing is wrong,” Roark said. “Once you give in, that’s when you get beat.”
The Cardinals did get to Roark in the fourth, as Paul DeJong hit his second pitch for a 418-foot solo homer, but he finished the inning, and retired the side in order in the fifth. He said he could have come out for the sixth, had Melvin let him.
“He’d have gone farther, stuff-wise, if he didn’t have that many pitches,” Melvin said. “He’s a bulldog.”
The A’s stranded seven over the first five, but Roark left with a lead thanks to Garneau, who blasted a two-run, two-out double into left center in the bottom of the fourth for his second hit on the day. Garneau — who has a career-best .708 OPS this season — attributed his recent offensive surge to the Angels hitting coach Jeremy Reed getting him into in a better position to swing at the pitches he wanted to swing at.
Oakland got some insurance in the sixth on Jurickson Profar’s 15th homer of the year, and added another run in the eighth, again, thanks to Garneau. He led off the frame with a walk and eventually scampered home when an Andrew Miller slider just got away from catcher Andrew Knizner on a two-out wild pitch to Matt Chapman.
“We’ve seen Garneau before,” Melvin said. “Haven’t seen him this involved in the offense.”