By John Hickey
Special to S.F. Examiner
OAKLAND – Think of Wednesday’s 10-0 Oakland Athletics win over the Angels as a rest stop on the way to the playoffs.
The A’s aren’t there quite yet. They did cut their magic number for making it to the American League wild card game to six by scoring six times in the fourth inning, then riding some brilliant pitching from Brett Anderson.
Anderson became the first A’s starter in 26 games to pitch into the seventh inning. His 6 2/3 innings of three-hit, no-walk shutout work meant that for one night, at least, the bullpen could catch up on its rest.
And with the A’s up 6-0 after four innings and 9-0 after five thanks to five RBIs from Stephen Piscotty, Oakland manager Bob Melvin could rest some of his key pieces, including Piscotty, Jed Lowrie, Khris Davis, Matt Chapman and Jonathan Lucroy for a couple of innings. That’s important for a team that’s had just two days off since Aug. 16.
“It’s nice to get a little break especially with a day game tomorrow,” Piscotty said, looking toward Thursday’s series finale with the Angels. “We’ve been playing a lot, and since we have a day game after a night game, it’s helpful. We’ve been working hard, and it’s not over yet.”
Melvin and Co. could be breathing a little easier if Tampa Bay would let up, but the Rays have won 10 of their last 12 to keep the pressure on. Oakland, which handed the Rays one of those two recent losses, has a 5 1/2-game lead in the wild card standings with 10 games to go.
“You want to give some of your horses time off,” the manager said. “But the Rays keep on winning. So we’ve got to keep pushing.”
There was no shortage of pressure on Anderson going into this one. The A’s had lost three straight – just the second time since the second week of June they’d done that – and Oakland can read the impact of those losses in the wild card standings. Anderson had pitched just twice since Aug 21, and both times he was gone before the fourth inning. He’d only beaten the Angels once in his career, and that was back in 2011.
He retired the first eight men he faced on Wednesday, then gave up a single, and proceeded to set down 11 of the next 12 before his night began to draw to a close. He might have made it through the seventh, but an infield hit in that inning would ultimately deny him that opportunity.
“When you get to the seventh, you want to keep going,” Anderson said. Ultimately, though, making sure the win was in the bag worked for the veteran left-hander.
“It was good to be back on the winning track and be a reason we’re winning instead of losing,” Anderson continued. “Every game is important right now, but we’d played some atypical A’s baseball. Tonight we went back on the right track in all three facets of the game.”
Wednesday was Cal vs. Stanford night at the Coliseum, and that played out in the A’s fourth inning. Former Cardinal shortstop Jed Lowrie got the game’s first two runs home with a two-run double. Then, former Stanford outfielder Piscotty made it 4-0 with a two-run double of his own. An inning later, Piscotty would hit his 25th homer, a three-run shot that was his 13th homer since the All-Star break.
Looking at the way the game played out, Piscotty said “I think Jed and I won that one for Stanford.”
They also won it for the A’s on a night when Oakland needed it. Piscotty’s been doing a lot of that. There was an adjustment period in the season’s first half when the former St. Louis Cardinal was adapting to the American League. He’s been driving the ball hard since the break, averaging .272 while driving in 35 runs. The five runs he brought in Wednesday matched his career single-game high.
“He’s as clutch a guy as we’ve had all year,” Melvin said. “He’s probably having his best season overall at this point.”