OAKLAND — Over the last 14 games, Oakland A’s first baseman Matt Olson had just four extra-base hits to his name, all doubles. Over the last eight games, he had gone just 4-for-24. After hitting 24 home runs in 59 games in his first extended big league action last year, he had just three home runs in 31 games to start 2018.
Olson came to the Coliseum early on Friday, before the series opener against the Baltimore Orioles. He hadn’t hit a home run since April 16, so he adjusted the posture, timing and rhythm of his swing. They weren’t big adjustments, he said, just things he was trying to get back to.
“It’s not like his power’s gone away,” manager Bob Melvin said. “He’ll get it going.”
Olson did just that on Friday, going 2-for-4 with a home run, a double and a screaming line out, as well as some nifty late-inning defense. Olson’s performance — along with a perfectly-placed sixth-inning seeing-eye single from Jed Lowrie — helped the A’s overcome a sixth-inning meltdown by reliever Yusmeiro Petit and hold on for a 6-4 win over the Orioles.
“I felt a lot better,” said Olson. “I was able to square up three balls, and I don’t know if I’ve done that in a game yet this year.”
Baltimore’s Adam Jones got the proceedings off to a rousing start in the first, smoking a 1-1 dead-red fastball from starter Daniel Mengden off the camera well in center for his fifth homer of the year, a 417-footer. The A’s (16-16), though, answered with back-to-back home runs in the bottom of the frame.
With two on and one out after a botched barehand double play attempt by second baseman Jace Peterson, Khris Davis one-upped Jones, booming a 432-foot shot to the back row of the left-center field bleachers on a 94-mph down-and-in fastball from Orioles starter Andrew Cashner.
Olson then supplied some power of his own, putting a charge into an 85-mph change up and sending it 429 feet to right center (exit velocity: 104.3 mph) to give the A’s a 4-1 lead.
“I’ve kind of been grinding out my at-bats, haven’t felt completely right at the plate,” Olson said. “Did some extra work in the cage today, and hopefully, it’s the start of something where I can get rolling.”
Meanwhile, Mengden kept the Orioles quiet with a very good four-pitch mix, using his slider to great effect. He got three of his five strikeouts using the slider, and had seven swings-and-misses at the pitch in his five innings of work. He also kept hitters off balance with his change up, which worked well off his low-90s four-seamer. Mengden was effectively wild with the fastball when he needed to be, changing eye level and getting swinging strikes above the zone.
“The slider and the fastball were really good today,” Mengden said. “Not very many changes or curveballs, but that’s just the way it set up tonight — mixing it good, up and down, in and out with the heater, and good sliders down.”
Melvin considered sending Mengden out for the sixth, sitting on 84 pitches — “I probably should have,” he said — but instead went to Petit, who allowed three runs on five hits while recording just one out. The A’s avoided further damage thanks to Lou Trivino, who induced an inning-ending double play from Peterson.
Trivino provided a steadying hand, going 1 2/3 innings and allowing one hit and one walk.
Stephen Piscotty led off the bottom of the sixth with a pedestrian grounder to short, but the throw by Manny Machado came in low, and first baseman Chris Davis couldn’t scoop it. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy then sent a 1-2 slider at the shins into the left-center field gap for his eighth double of the year.
After a pop out from Matt Joyce, the Orioles brought the infield in. That gambit paid off as Peterson cut off a grounder from Marcus Semien and cut Piscotty down at the plate, bringing up Lowrie.
The Oakland second baseman — and Major League hits leader — had come up empty with two men on and no outs in the first. He came through with two outs in the sixth, punching a 3-1 slider from reliever Brad Brach under Davis’s mitt at first and out of the reach of Peterson, into shallow right center, bringing home Lucroy to break the 4-4 tie.
With one out and men at the corners in the top of the seventh, Trivino needed some defensive help, and got it from Olson, as he came off the bag to make a swipe tag on Jones after a diving stop up the middle by Semien. A 50-second replay review and one pitch later, Joyce leaped up and crashed into the left field wall to snare a drive by Davis to end the inning, leaving a man at third.
Oakland added an insurance run on a two-out RBI single from Semien in the bottom of the eighth, cashing in a one-out double by Lucroy after fouling off four pitches from reliever Darren O’Day.
“The at-bat Marcus had off of O’Day was unbelievable,” Melvin said. “… In the age of strikeouts, when you put a ball in play, sometimes good things’ll happen with two strikes.”
Blake Treinen earned the save — his fourth — by pitching a perfect ninth.
Lowrie, the Major League hits leader, finished the day 3-for-5 to up his average to .356 on the season, and has now tallied an MLB-best 16 multi-hit games.