OAKLAND — Marcus Semien didn’t know that, with his two-run home run in the second inning, he’d passed Rickey Henderson, which is odd, seeing as the ever-vocal Henderson is in the Oakland Athletics’ locker room almost daily.
Henderson was sitting behind home plate on Monday as Semien passed him for the most home runs from the leadoff spot in A’s history (29), but while Semien went 3-for-5, the rest of the Oakland lineup swooned.
The 6-5 loss to the Kansas City Royals cost the A’s an opportunity to extend their win streak to seven, and to widen their lead in the American League wild card over idle Tampa Bay. Despite a banner day from Semien, Oakland lost just its third game when leading after eight innings, and did it at the hands of a team that’s 39 games under .500.
Two of the A’s most reliable pieces faltered late on Monday, as Ramon Laureano committed a costly error in the decisive ninth, and closer Liam Hendriks got hammered en route to blowing Oakland’s big-league-worst 31st save of the season.
“He’s been absolutely fantastic for us, and every now and then, you’re going to blow a save,” said manager Bob Melvin.
After Khris Davis continued to banish his seasonlong slump with a go-ahead single in the eighth, Hendriks surrendered a one-out home run to .163-hitting Brett Phillips to tie things up in the ninth.
A 100-mph drive to the center field wall by Whit Merrifield kicked off Laureano’s glove for a two-base error and Adalberto Mondesi doubled him home for the deciding score, handing Hendriks his third loss of the season.
“It was a weird outing,” Hendriks said. ” I felt like I made some pitches when I needed to, but not enough, and I kept falling behind and kind of had to groove a fastball. I just don’t think I had quite the life I had yesterday. I didn’t get the job done.”
Laureano earlier had saved starter Tanner Roark from disaster in the first. Starting in right to ease the transition back into an everyday roll, manager Bob Melvin said before the game that the new assignment actually let Laureano — who missed time with a stress reaction in his right shin — show off his arm more. It was the literal truth in the first inning, as he kept Mondesi — one of the fastest runners in the game (11th in sprint speed) — at third on back-to-back fly balls with strong throws to home, his second going 235 feet on a line at 98.6 mph.
Roark got out of the inning having allowed just one run on a Mondesi RBI triple, but threw 25 pitches in the first frame.
As rough as Roark had it in the top of the first, Royals starter Glenn Sparkman was a disaster in the bottom half. A leadoff Semien single was followed by a walk, a balk, a pair of wild pitches and a slicing Matt Olson double into the left field corner, giving the A’s a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the frame.
Semien struck again in the second, blasting a 105-mph, two-run homer high off the facade over the Holy Toledo sign in dead center, 415 feet away, for his 31st homer of the year. It was the second of three straight balls the A’s hit off Sparkman that left the bat at 100 mph or harder, and it broke Henderson’s 1990 record.
“That was pretty special,” said the East Bay-raised and Berkeley-educated Semien. “He was my dad’s favorite player growing up.”
In the top of the fourth, Roark took his turn, giving up a 109.5-mph leadoff homer to Jorge Soler, then loading the bases with no outs. Like Jesus Luzardo the night before, Roark struck out the next three men to escape without any further damage, catching center fielder Brett Phillips looking at strike three — a two-seam fastball at the knees for his eighth K.
“We needed him to get as far as he did, at that point,” Melvin said.
Roark, though, couldn’t escape the fifth. Leaving with two on and two outs after 110 pitches, Roark was charged with two runs when Gordon bounced a 2-2 Jake Diekman offering for a game-tying single through the right side.
After Jurickson Profar’s two-out triple in the sixth went for naught, Olson led off the eighth with a double off reliever Kevin McCarthy. Oakland pinch ran Franklin Barreto, but a comebacker by Mark Canha erased him between second and third. McCarthy walked Robbie Grossman to get to Davis, who ripped a 2-1 go-ahead single to center.
When Olson’s spot came up in the ninth — with two outs and a man on first — it was Chad Pinder, rather than the A’s hottest hitter (Olson has hit .298 in his last 15 games), who came to bat. Pinder struck out to end the game.