OAKLAND — In an Oakland Athletics lineup that features dependable leadoff hitter Marcus Semien and All-Star third baseman Matt Chapman, Robbie Grossman is often the odd-man out.
On Friday night, he was the hero.
Grossman delivered an RBI ground ball single up the middle — his first-ever walkoff hit – in the 13th inning to take the second game of a four-game set with the American League West-leading Houston Astros, 3-2. With the victory, the A’s improved to 70-52 and are now just half a game back of the Tampa Bay Rays for the second AL wild card.
“We have a one o’clock game tomorrow,” Grossman said. “Everyone needs to get home and get some sleep.”
Before the game-winning knock, Grossman had gone 0-for-5 and had not reached base once, but his knock drove in Corban Joseph, who led off the 13th with a single, after hitting his first major-league homer in Oakland’s Thursday win over Houston.
Though he would prove inconsequential in the eventual 13-inning marathon, Tanner Roark put in another good outing for the A’s, a good sign for a team with postseason aspirations.
Over six innings, Roark limited the high-powered Astros to two runs on six hits, working out of several jams – he allowed baserunners in each of the first four innings – to give his offense a chance against A’s killer Justin Verlander. Roark now owns a 2.55 ERA in his three starts as an Athletic and looks to be the more consistent of Oakland’s two starting pitching acquisitions – the other being Homer Bailey.
“I try to outlast or at least keep up with the other starting pitcher,” Roark said. “When he goes out and puts up zeroes, I want to do the exact same thing.”
Dating back to his time with the Detroit Tigers, Verlander entered Friday with an active six-game regular season winning streak against the A’s that started in 2014. He had also gone 6-0 with a 2.18 ERA in his last six starts at Oakland Coliseum since 2011.
While Verlander’s brilliance continued – two runs allowed on 11 strikeouts in seven innings – the A’s offense exploited the All-Star right-hander’s one weakness: a proclivity to give up the long ball.
Solo shots from Mark Canha and Semien gave the A’s the necessary runs to force the game into extra innings and pushed Verlander’s home runs allowed total to an MLB-high 31.
In his first turn through the A’s lineup, Verlander overwhelmed the Oakland bats, striking out seven – including the side in the third – and retiring all nine batters in order.
Semien gave the A’s hope of a breakthrough with his second at-bat against the Houston ace in the fourth, slamming a double off the center field wall to lead off the inning. He would reach third later in the inning but Verlander would strand the shortstop to keep the game scoreless, as Matt Olson narrowly missed a two-run home run for the final out, sending right fielder Josh Reddick to the warning track.
The next A’s batter to get a pitch to hit would not miss.
Fresh off a rest day for a bruised left hand, Canha ripped a high 2-2 fastball into the left field seats for a no-doubter in the fifth. Roark, though, could not quiet the heart of the Houston order in the sixth, allowing Michael Brantley and Alex Bregman to score.
In the bottom of the sixth, Semien muscled a game-tying homer just yards away from his fourth-inning double, and for the next seven innings, both bullpens dominated.
“It was a big night for a lot of guys,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin. “Maybe some guys that were struggling a little bit really emerged. You have to be perfect. If you’re not, you lose the game.”
Among the relievers that shone brightest were 2018 set-up man Lou Trivino and closer Blake Treinen.
Treinen looked like his 2018 All-Star self: the closer who went 9-2 with a 0.78 ERA in 80 1/3 innings. In the seventh, he fanned both George Springer and Jose Altuve to strand a runner at first.
Treinen has struggled to return to the lofty standard he set last year –with a 4.76 ERA in 51 innings in 2019 – and though some regression was due, the right-handed reliever has rarely looked like the pitcher he was last year, battling shoulder issues and inconsistency.
Lou Trivino – another embattled reliever who was the A’s go-to setup man for Treinen in 2018 – also posted an excellent outing, pitching three scoreless innings with four strikeouts.
“I finally felt behind the ball today,” Trivino said. “I was able to attack hitters, threw all my pitches for strikes. This is something I really needed.”
Returns to form for Trivino and Treinen would go a long way in patching up an average Oakland bullpen for the September stretch run.