By Brent Dedmon
Special to S.F. Examiner
ANAHEIM — After the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels split two games at Angel Stadium, the A’s entered Thursday with a chance at their first series win since May 24-26.
Having lost six of their last seven including a roller-coaster ride that ended in heartbreak on Wednesday, the team was ready to turn the page before heading to Texas for a four-game set with the Rangers over the weekend.
They did just that, riding nine hits (seven of which were singles), six walks and a gritty pitching performance from Mike Fiers to a 7-4 victory over the Angels in front of 34,109. With 100 games left to play and still a raft of pitching reinforcements on the way, Oakland (31-31) sits right at .500, 11 games back in the division and two games back in the wild card race.
“We’ve kind of been scuffling now right around the .500 mark,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin, whose team has now been at .500 on 11 occasions this season. “At this point, every series we win puts us one more game above .500 and we’d like to climb above that, hopefully comfortably.”
In Wednesday night’s slugfest, both skippers wore out the infield grass with mound visits and Melvin had sent his third pitcher to the mound by the end of the fourth inning. That wasn’t the case on Thursday. Fiers (5-3, 4.76 ERA) took the hill for the A’s as one of their most consistent pitchers of late, allowing three or fewer runs in each of his last seven starts, going 2-1 with a 2.82 ERA in that span, including a no-hitter on May 7 at home against Cincinnati.
Apart from a fifth inning mistake that Mike Trout deposited into the left field seats for his 16th homer of the season, Friers pitched well, scattering three runs on seven hits through six innings, and retiring nine of the first 10 batters he faced, striking out five without allowing a walk. He threw 99 pitches as earned the win.
“It was a grinder game, just flowing the first time through the order, but then they put some good at-bats together and hit the ball hard,” Fiers said. “You know, I got into some jams but was able to get out of them and some guys made plays behind me … and with the way our guys are swinging the bat, I’m just trying to limit the big innings.”
Oakland welcomed the sight of an opposing lefty on the mound in Tyler Skaggs (4-6, 4.97 ERA). Having gone 13-5 in games started by southpaws this season, the A’s couldn’t get to Skaggs until the fourth inning, when they collected four straight singles by Stephen Piscotty, Mark Canha, Ramon Laureano and Jurickson Profar, followed by a run-scoring sacrifice fly from Josh Phegley, his 34th RBI to put Oakland up 3-0.
Los Angeles joined the singles party in the bottom of the fourth, stringing together three straight off the bats of Shohei Ohtani, Kole Calhoun (2-4) and David Fletcher, followed by a sac-fly from Brian Goodwin, but could only cash in one run.
The A’s continued to play small ball in the fifth when they managed three runs on just one single by Khris Davis. The inning started with back-to-back walks, followed by the Davis RBI single. Skaggs, unable to record an out in the fifth, was relieved by Jaime Barria, who allowed both inherited runners to score on sacrifice flies before getting out of the inning, bringing the score to 6-1. Skaggs, who came in with a 2-7 record against Oakland, saw his ERA against the A’s rise to 5.49 with six earned runs as he took the loss.
After Trout’s big fly in the bottom of the fifth, a solo shot by Piscotty in the top of the seventh — his eighth of the year — gave the A’s a 7-3 lead. That was the only run allowed by Barria, who scattered three hits in his five innings of work, striking out six. Meanwhile, Oakland’s quartet of relievers — Ryan Buchter, Liam Hendriks, Lou Trivino and Joakim Soria — combined for two hits, one earned run and two walks over the final three innings to secure the victory.
The two AL West rivals will see one another next on June 27th back at Angel Stadium, but before then, the A’s will head to Texas, sending lefty Brett Anderson (6-4, 3.95 ERA) to the bump against righty Lance Lynn (7-4, 4.50 ERA) in Friday’s series opener. The game is at 5:05 p.m. Pacific. The two teams will play a day/night doubleheader on Saturday.