OAKLAND — While a crowd of just under 37,000 on Saturday night gave the Oakland Athletics some much-needed energy during a ninth-inning rally for their 10th last-at-bat win of the season, Sunday’s shirtsleeve crowd, hoping to see the A’s clinch their first playoff berth since 2014, didn’t have much to get excited about. Until the eighth inning.
After a one-out single by Stephen Piscotty, Matt Olson beat the shift for an infield single, bringing up rookie sensation Ramon Laureano. The 24-year old outfielder got ahead 3-1, bringing a chanting crowd of 35,754 to its feet. He then struck out to strand Oakland’s seventh and eighth runners of the day.
Instead of clinching, the A’s fell quietly to the Minnesota Twins, 5-1, as home ace Trevor Cahill had his second bad outing in a row and a crucial error by third baseman Matt Chapman keyed a three-run fourth in the final home game of the regular season.
“A lot of times, we put on our best show late in games,” said manager Bob Melvin. “Unfortunately, it didn’t happen today.”
With the loss, and a win by the Wild Card-chasing Tampa Bay Rays, the A’s will try to clinch a playoff berth in Seattle — where Oakland will fly over 100 members of its staff across several flights Monday morning — or in Anaheim, against the Angels.
“That’s what the schedule says, so that’s what we do,” Melvin said. “Everybody’s a little disappointed.”
The A’s lost 87 games a season ago, and have not had a winning season since the last time they made it to the postseason in 2014.
When they clinched that Wild Card berth against the eventual World Series champion Kansas City Royals, they did it on the road, in the final game of the season against the Texas Rangers.
“Any time you get an opportunity to go to the postseason, especially for a team that was not expected to be where we are right now, it’ll be pretty fulfilling wherever we potentially do it.”
That year, Oakland backed into the playoffs after the disruptive Yoenis Cespedes trade. This year, they have a bit more momentum, having gone 60-26 since June 16, and riding consistent power from Khris Davis and four other 20-home run hitters, including first baseman Olson.
Olson has posted one of the sneakiest elite defensive seasons in the majors, second only to Brandon Belt among major league first basemen in defensive runs saved, and third among first basemen with a 6.8 ultimate zone rating per 150 games — a measure of his defensive range.
On Sunday, he provided the only meaningful A’s offense, as Oakland (94-62) went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and stranded nine base runners. The A’s went 0-for-20 over the course of the series.
“That does not happen very often with us,” Melvin said. “We’re usually pretty good, but we were not over the course of the series.”
After a two-run Jake Cave homer in the first, Olson came up in the second and, after fouling off three straight pitches finished a nine-pitch at-bat with his career-high 28th home run — the most among American League first basemen. That was the last noise the A’s offense made on the day.
A potential double play grounder by Tyler Austin to Matt Chapman in the fourth sparked a rally, as Chapman rushed a throw wide to second to put men at the corners with one out. One batter later, Max Keplersent an RBI single to left, and the next man after that — Ehire Adrianza — sent an RBI double to right center.
“I didn’t pick up my target,” Chapman said. “I think I had a little more time. I think I rushed the throw because I wanted to turn the double play.”
Shawn Kelley entered for Cahill and limited the damage, allowing a sacrifice fly top Chris Gimenez before getting out of the inning.
“That was my fault, letting three runs score,” Chapman said. “It doesn’t really feel good.”
Adrianza made a run-saving play in the fifth, when, with two men on and one out in the fifth, his diving snare on a hot shot up the line by Matt Chapman started an inning-ending double play.
“That describes what happened today,” Chapman said. “They made the plays they needed to, when they needed to make them. We didn’t.”
Twins starter Kyle Gibson went 7 1/3, scattering seven hits and three walks while striking out three.
“He didn’t really make many mistakes,” said Chapman, who went 0-for-3 against Gibson. “He kept the ball down, and went deep into the game. He was keeping guys off balance … He wasn’t leaving anything in the middle of the plate. We couldn’t really string too many hits together, and every time we did, it seemed like they made a great play.”
Cahill went 2 2/3 last time at the Coliseum on Sept. 9 before exiting with upper back issues. On Sunday, Cahill allowed all five runs — but only three earned — in 3 2/3 innings. At one point, he retired nine straight, and threw 65 pitches, with 42 strikes.
“I actually thought his delivery and his stuff — the movement on his stuff — was really good,” said Melvin. “I think some of the best we’ve seen … All things considered, I think it was a step in the right direction. The last time we saw him, he was completely out of whack, was hurting a little bit, and you could tell in his delivery. It just wasn’t smooth. I think that he looked OK today.”
Melvin said that Cahill will take his next turn in the rotation. Before that, though, the A’s will send Daniel Mengden to the mound on Monday against the Mariners in their next attempt to clinch. Oakland was battling Seattle for much of the season for that second Wild Card spot behind the New York Yankees.
Since returning to the major leagues following a strained right foot and a demotion to Triple-A, Mengden has come out of the bullpen as a bulk guy for the A’s opener games. He’s 1-0 in five games, posting a 1.83 ERA in 19 2/3 innings of work. His start will push back Brett Anderson and Edwin Jackson. The fact that Oakland didn’t clinch on Sunday didn’t change those plans.