OAKLAND — For an Independence Day showdown between two of the top teams in the American League, Thursday’s matchup between the Oakland Athletics and Minnesota Twins was surprisingly bereft of fireworks.
Until Marcus Semien happened in the eighth inning.
With the bases loaded and nobody out, Semien roped a homer to left field over the head of the helpless Luis Arreaz to put the final touches on a 7-2 win, as Oakland took two out of three from the AL Central-leading Twins.
“That’s their three best [starting pitchers], I think,” Semien said of the series win. “They got good pitching, a lot of power bats and everyone’s hitting well over there. So, big series win for sure and I’m sure we’ll see them again, obviously in Minnesota, but that’s a team we hope to see in the playoffs.”
The blast was Semien’s second home run on the day, after a solo shot in the fifth, marking the shortstop’s fifth career two-homer game and his second this year. Semien also tied his career-high mark of five RBIs in a single game, which happened to be the A’s margin of victory by game’s end.
Semien’s standout day at the plate may have been a surprise to some, but not to A’s manager Bob Melvin.
“He does a lot of good things,” Melvin said. “He’s hitting the ball the other way now when they shift him. He’s very prepared for each and every at-bat. He’ll sit on offspeed pitches when he knows they’re [coming]. Like everything he does, whether it’s defensively, certainly offensively, he just gets better and better and more knowledgeable as he goes along.”
The A’s now sit at 48-40, still one game behind the Cleveland Indians for the second American League wild card spot and back to a season-high eight games over .500.
Oakland entered the pivotal third game of a three-game set with Minnesota looking for a long outing from starter Tanner Anderson to keep the load manageable for a bullpen that had expended seven relievers in a 12-inning Wednesday loss.
Anderson allowed two quick two-out singles to Nelson Cruz and Luis Arraez in the first, then walked Miguel Sano on five pitches, loading the bases and enabling Cruz to score on catcher’s interference in the next at-bat.
By the end of the first, Anderson had tallied 27 pitches, an underwhelming start to an afternoon in which the A’s needed as much length as they could get from their starter.
Oakland consistently ground out at-bats against Twins All-Star ace Jose Berrios, repeatedly putting him in difficult situations.
The A’s squandered their first chance to get on the board in the third, unable to take advantage of a leadoff double from Chris Herrmann and a one-out, first-and-third situation later in the inning. They broke through in the fourth on an RBI single from Herrmann, who finished the game 4-for-4 with three singles and a double, the first four-hit game of his career.
“He’s had some really good at-bats,” Melvin said. “Not trying to do too much. Obviously he hits the slam the other night and now he’s gonna get pitched away a little more and you see him use the opposite field today.”
Tied 1–1 in the fifth, Anderson gave up a leadoff double to Cruz, who advanced to third on the next pitch when Anderson pulled a pitch past Herrmann and to the backstop.
Two outs later, Anderson was on the verge of getting through five innings without allowing an earned run — a decent performance considering he was just three days removed from a severe cold —but a pair of singles, including a go-ahead RBI knock by Ehire Adrianza, chased him, and forced Melvin to go to left-hander Wei-Chung Wang to record the final out.
Wang shouldered the load for the A’s bullpen, giving the A’s 2 1/3 innings of no-hit ball and bridging the gap between Anderson’s departure and Lou Trivino’s usually-assigned eighth inning.
“Every time we lean on him he comes up big for us and he was huge today,” Melvin said. “He comes in and gets a lefty out in a big spot and continues to roll on for two more innings.”
Wang, through an interpreter, said that he was very excited to get his first Major League win, especially considering how difficult it can be to make it back to the Majors after going to Asia, as he did when he returned to the KBO. He thanked the A’s for giving him the opportunity to come back to the U.S. and said he hopes to continue pitching well.
Wang’s efforts looked to be essential to an Oakland victory. After a Semien solo shot to lead off the fifth, Mark Canha proceeded to ground into a 6-4-3 bases-loaded double play, wasting a chance to give his bullpen some breathing room but nonetheless giving the A’s a slim 3-2 lead.
Twins right-hander Mike Morin struggled to get a single out when he entered the game in the eighth, serving up singles to Robbie Grossman and Hermann, then hitting Ramon Laureano to bring up Semien. Semien jumped on a misplaced first-pitch changeup, sending it just above the left field scoreboard for a grand slam, givin Oakland a five-run margin.
“That’s what Morin throws, a slow changeup,” Semien said about the pitch. “It’s a pitch you can get in the air, so that’s what I tried to do.”
Joakim Soria closed the game out for the A’s and Oakland took its seventh win in the last nine and 12th in the last 16.
The A’s now head to Seattle for a three-game series against the Mariners. Left-handed pitcher Brett Anderson (8-5, 3.92 ERA) is expected to start the first game on Friday against fellow southpaw Yusei Kikuchi (4-5, 5.12 ERA).