OAKLAND — Josh Phegley stood at second with his hands on his helmet, a look of seeming surprise on his face. Two runs had just scored, and the Oakland Athletics had taken a commanding four-run lead over the floundering Seattle Mariners.
Phegley — never more than a backup catcher before this season — had just driven in his second and third runs of the day and 31st of the year, tops among American League catchers. Earlier in the game, he’d hit his sixth home run in 41 games. Oh, and he came into the game hitting just .180 at the Oakland Coliseum this year.
“I didn’t even know that,” maanger Bob Melvin said. “He’s just been so consistent for us.”
Phegley’s 2-for-3, three-RBI day helped the A’s come away with a 7-1 win over the Mariners, a win which extended Oakland’s winning streak to nine, continued starter Brett Anderson’s dominance over Seattle and marked the A’s first sweep of the AL West rival to the north since 2012.
“He’s putting up All-Star-type numbers from the nine-spot,” said Anderson, who improved his career record against Seattle to 9-5 thanks to his backstop. “It’s pretty amazing.”
Despite Phegley’s sub-par numbers at home (25 of his 31 RBIs have come away from the Coliseum) the Oakland catcher is first among AL receivers in RBIs, and fourth overall among big league catchers, while hitting a career-high .281, including a .338 mark on the road. A career backup, Phegley’s previous season-best batting average with over 100 plate appearances was .249 in 2015.
”It’s just more of a consistent approach and consistent at-bats,” said Melvin. “He’s really taken advantage of an opportunity he’s never had before. Just when you think here comes another little lull, he has a game like he did today. He’s ahd several games this year where he was the key bat in the game. Without him, we probably don’t win the game.”
Phegley sheparded Anderson through a 24-pitch first inning, where he issued two of an unusual four walks, and then the A’s offense got to work.
Robbie Grossman drew a one-out walk in the bottom of the first, and Matt Chapman slugged his second opposite field homer in as many days — a 415-foot liner to match his 419-foot shot on Saturday — to put Oakland up 2-0, and snatch the team home run lead from the injured Khris Davis. That would turn out to be all Oakland needed, as Anderson went a bullpen-saving 6 1/3 innings, striking out four and working around five hits and four walks to allow a single run on a seventh-inning solo shot to Jay Bruce.
Anderson did get some help thanks to a season-high-tying three double plays by an A’s defense that came into the game on pace for the fewest twin killings in a 162-game season in franchise history.
“A little out-of-character with the walks, but it seemed like every time he got a walk, we got a double play,” manager Bob Melvin said. “I’m looking at my card and seeing how many balls are on the ground, and when he’s got a lot of balls on the ground, he’s typically pitching well.”
Anderson lowered his career ERA against the Mariners to 2.33, the fourth lowest by any pitcher against Seattle with at least 100 innings of work.
“I thought he was sharp, from the bullpen on,” Phegley said. “Pregame warmups, I liked what i saw, and I was pretty excited for his outing. He was moving his stuff all over. They had a little different approach at their place when he pitched, kind of shooting the other way, staying on that sinker and changeup. [Sunday] he used that backdoor breaker, throwing that four-seamer up and cutter in on the hands, kind of keeping them off balance.”
In the second inning, Phegley sent a two-out, 3-1 offering from Seattle starter Mike Leake 388 feet to left for his sixth home run of the year, surpassing his combined total for the last two seasons (5) that it took him 96 games to reach. Phegley has never played in more than 73 games in a season, and he’s now played in 41 of the A’s first 53. His homer counted for the A’s 27th home run in the last 12 games, a run that comes on the heels of a stretch where they hit 15 in 23.
After Bruce’s 13th homer of the season (and 299th of his career) chased Anderson, Phegley came up with two on and two outs in the bottom of the frame. This season, Phegley has hit .182 with the bases empty, but .385 with runners on base (20-for-52), and with the count full, he ripped a double just inside the left field line, driving in rookie Skye Bolt and Jurickson Profar. It was just his 11th hit at home this season.
“We can do it, top to bottom, and I’ve just been fortunate that guys are on base a lot when I’m up,” Phegley said. “When I get a hit, guys are scoring, and I tip my cap to the rest of the team.”
Phegley’s knock came on the heels of some replay drama earlier in the frame. After Mark Canha walked to lead off the seventh, he was forced out at second on a grounder by Profar. The Mariners, however, after the pitch clock wound down, protested that Canha had intentionally gone out of his way to slide into shortstop P.J. Crawford to break up a would-be double play. After the umpiring crew spoke with both managers for over two minutes, they reviewed the play with New York, and ruled that Canha’s slide did not violate the rules.
Seattle manager Scott Servais was promptly ejected by umpire Mike Everett. It was the last gasp of what’s been a frustrating road trip for the Mariners, who return home having lost six straight, and having spiraled since a 13-2 start, losing 30 of their last 40 games.
The A’s got another pair of runs in the bottom of the eighth. After a Grossman single and a Chapman double, Canha sent a 2-2 shot off Elias’s glove for what was ruled a run-scoring error. An RBI groundout by Profar completed the scoring.
That put the finishing touches on Oakland’s first sweep of Seattle since Sept. 28-30, 2012. The A’s are now 8-4 in their last 12 games against the American League West, and have crept back into third place. They now look to extend what is, for the moment, their longest winning streak in 12 years with the Los Angeles Angels of Amaheim coming to town. That streak, however, comes with a caveat. In the middle of those nine decided games is a rain-suspended game with the Detroit Tigers, which Oakland led 5-3 in the bottom of the seventh. Should the A’s lose that game, which is scheduled to be completed on Sept. 6, that would break up the current streak.