OAKLAND — Mark Canha had made a difficult decision to forego his final season at Cal — one that saw the Bears reach the College World Series — in order to turn pro.
The Miami Marlins had drafted him in the seventh round, and despite hitting .285 with 72 home runs over five minor league seasons, Miami just didn’t see him as a prospect. When Canha got a chance to come home via the Rule 5 draft, he saw it as a chance to get his career back on track.
After a fair 2015, he missed most of 2016 with a hip injury that eventually required surgery. After stumbling in the wake of his recovery — being sent down to Triple-A Nashville for most of 2017 — Canha has had a resurgence. On Tuesday, the Bellarmine Prep product went 2-for-4 and stole home in a 6-2 win for the A’s over the Toronto Blue Jays, the 600th career win as Oakland’s skipper for another Cal guy — Bob Melvin.
“After the injury and the surgery and the long road of rehab back after what was a really good year, and a tough year because of the injury, to see him doing what he’s doing right now is dedication and hard work,” Melvin said. “It’s certainly a lot of fun to see him do his thing.”
Canha — now hitting .264 on the season — has more home runs (14) than treasured San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey, and he’s two away from tying his career high. His 17 doubles — including an RBI knock and a fifth-inning two-bagger on Tuesday — are five shy of his career best. He’s done all of this despite playing the entire outfield and first base, and batting at least one game in every spot in the lineup.
“We know he can be a guy who’s really versatile, and tough on top of it,” Melvin said. “He’s come a long way back from what was a tough injury from him.”
“Not everybody gets up and gets to play every day — I’m not Aaron Judge,” Canha said. “You have to make the most of those opportunities you get, even if they come sparingly.”
On Tuesday, he hit seventh and played center, providing excitement in a three-run third sparked by a 421-foot Khris Davis blast to dead center field.
While Davis’s home run put the A’s comfortably on top, 4-1, Canha doubled home Matt Olson three batters later, and after a single by his former Golden Bears teammate Marcus Semien, the pair took part in the rare double steal, with Canha using a hook slide to get under the tag of Blue Jays catcher Luke Maile.
“That’s not a call,” Melvin said. “It’s Marcus on a green light, and Matty [Williams] reading it, so it looks good. Trying to be a little bit more aggressive when we get a chance on the bases. It’s not really what we do, but it looked good.”
Maile threw down to second to try and get Semien, and as Canha read the throw, he broke for home.
“I think I did [a double steal] last year or two years ago, so it’s kind of a play that I knew I was capable of making,” Canha said. “It was kind of like deja vus as it was happening. I saw Maile throwing down and he didn’t really check or anything. I just kind of went for it.”
While Canha was in the minor leagues last season, he learned the value of just having fun playing baseball. He’s certainly having fun now.
Canha — who sparked local ire with his bat flip and “This is my house!” roar after a July 14 go-ahead home run against the San Francisco Giants — has worn his role with pride, and recently, that’s been literal. After the homer against San Francisco, he had green t-shirts (and white tank tops) made up: Bat Flippin’ Season. The idea came to him the day after the game in question, and they were ubiquitous in the clubhouse early Tuesday afternoon.
Along with the shirts displayed in the clubhouse, there will soon be ladies’ tank tops soon available, and even a ski-mask design, inspired by Canha’s early-season facial accessory (the shirts will be available later this week on his online storefront at 500level.com). To quote Sheriff Bart of “Blazing Saddles,” Canha’s rapidly becoming a big underground success in this town.
“That’d be great if I was a cult hero,” Canha said. “We’ll see. That’d be really cool.”
Typical of an irreverent A’s clubhouse culture of years gone by, Canha’s “sorry not sorry” treatment of the bat flip — and his personal renaissance — have typified Oakland this season. It’s why general manager David Forst was so adamant that this team remain together and be allowed to make a run not only at the second wild card, but perhaps, even the division.
“I don’t think anything surprises the team with where we’re at right now,” Melvin said. “They’re looking to do better things as we go along, and we seem to get better as the season goes along.”
The A’s sat just five games back of the Houston Astros when play began on Tuesday, with more wins (62) than all but one team in the National League.
Oakland is now 29-10 in its last 39 games, with Davis finishing a torrid July — driving in 29 runs, the best in the bigs this month, and six shy of the club record for July — amidst what looks to be his third straight 40-home run season. Third baseman Matt Chapman — who leads the majors in defensive runs saved — is getting better as the season wears on.
“We’ve got some special players,” Melvin said.
Chapman is hitting .322 in July, and arguably clinched a Gold Glove with his best play yet at third.
After Jeurys Familia fanned the first two men he faced in the eighth, he walked Kendrys Morales. Chapman was shifted on the edge of the grass, at about where a shortstop would line up. Yangervis Solarte sent a bouncer up the third base line, Chapman ranged to his right, backhanded the ball and from foul territory fired a strike to first for the final out of the inning.
“You want to say video-gameish, but I don’t know that a video game has seen that before,” Melvin said. “Even talking to [Chad] Pinder and [Matt] Olson, the guys that have seen him the most, they’re like, ‘I don’t know what to say about that one.’ Off the bat, there’s just no way, one, that he was going to get to it, and two, I thought maybe he’d try to go to second, but he flips it over to first and gets him easily. We keep seeing highlight reels from him.”
Blake Treinen closed things out, after a six-inning starting effort from Trevor Cahill, who struck out six.