OAKLAND — Stephen Piscotty was off to a slow start in 2019, batting .200 with four RBIs through his first nine games. He sprang to life on Thursday.
The Oakland Athletics right fielder helped the A’s move past a stinging loss on Wednesday night by going 4-for-4 with a homer and driving in five runs on Thursday, leading Oakland to a 7-3 victory over the visiting Boston Red Sox.
With the win, Oakland took three out of four games in this week’s series against the defending World Series champions. The story in their first two victories was the A’s untouchable pitching staff, and in the loss, it was their shaky defensive performance. In the finale, the lineup — sans a resting Matt Chapman — went to work and tied the club’s season-high with seven runs.
“It was a great homestand,” said Piscotty. “Winning four-game sets are tough, and we did that twice.”
Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez kept the A’s quiet through the first two innings, but Piscotty had the left-hander’s number all day. He singled in the first inning on what turned out to be the hardest-hit ball of the entire game, over 109 mph off the bat. Then in the third, with Oakland trailing 3-0, he came up with two runners on base and swatted a homer to tie things up.
“Just something over the middle,” said Piscotty on what he was looking for in the third inning, when Rodriguez grooved a 2-0 fastball down the middle. “In that situation you want to get something up in the air, drive in that run no matter what. Home run is the best-case scenario there, but I was just trying to get the ball elevated.”
Piscotty wasn’t done, though. He came up again in the fourth, with two men on, two out and one run already home. He lofted a deep fly to right-center, which hung up long enough for center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr and right fielder Mookie Betts to both reach it in plenty of time. However, the two fielders — both 2018 Gold Glovers — deferred to each other and neither took charge of actually catching it, allowing it to fall and then bounce over the wall for a two-run double that effectively ended Rodriguez’s afternoon.
By the end of the game, Piscotty had delivered a homer, a double, two singles, and a walk. That breakout added 82 points to his batting average, and raised his OPS from .596 up to .851.
“Starting to see it a little bit better, the rhythm is good,” said Piscotty. “Got a couple lucky breaks, not gonna lie. But that’s baseball, and sometimes they bounce your way.”
While Piscotty drove in the runs, catcher Josh Phegley was instrumental in sparking both of the big rallies. Phegley led off the third with a sharp double to left and came around on Piscotty’s dinger. Then, with a runner already on in the fourth, he beat out an infield single off the glove of third baseman Eduardo Nunez — that hit helped set the stage for an RBI double by Robbie Grossman, and then Phegley himself came around to score again on Piscotty’s double.
“I’m just trying to get my rhythm and timing back,” said Phegley, who entered the game just 2-for-13 on the young season. “I felt good in spring with my swing, but just going to Japan, all the off-days, and then we only played two games over there. Kind of fell back into old habits there for a minute, but we got it ironed out, and against the left-hander like that, had a good approach and got two big hits.”
The offensive explosion came not a moment too soon, as A’s starting pitcher Brett Anderson experienced some trouble in the early innings. Three of Boston’s first four batters reached base in the first, and with the bags loaded, Anderson walked Xander Bogaerts and Brock Holt to force home a pair of runs. In the third inning, J.D. Martinez added a solo homer, his third of the young season after knocking 43 last year.
With the deficit erased by Piscotty’s long ball, Anderson managed to keep the Red Sox off the board for the rest of his outing. He loaded the bases in the fourth, and allowed a couple loud singles in the fifth and sixth, but he did enough to get the ball to the vaunted Oakland bullpen with a lead in hand.
“It was another pretty much terrible start to the game, but after that, kind of settled in,” said Anderson. “They’re the world champions for a reason, they grind out some at-bats, put some balls in play. My command wasn’t great all day, but after the first there I made some pitches when I had to, a bunch in traffic which is never ideal for a contact guy. Anytime you get a win in the big leagues, let alone against the defending world champions, we’ll take it.”
Melvin was thrilled with the gutsy performance from his veteran starter, who tiptoed around eight hits and four walks over 5.1 innings to keep Boston in check. “The way the game started out, the first inning looked like it could get away from us. So Brett got some outs when he needed to and ended up giving us some length today. We were down several guys in the bullpen today, we needed him to give us at least five innings today and he gave us an out more than that.”
Lou Trivino relieved Anderson midway through the sixth, with one on and one out, and struck out reigning American League MVP Betts and fellow young star Andrew Benintendi to end the minor threat. Joakim Soria pitched a quick seventh inning, and then, with a four-run lead, Liam Hendriks got the call for the final two frames while closer Blake Treinen got some rest.
Hendriks received a bit of help from his defense, though. In the ninth, Boston challenged Ramon Laureano’s arm once again, and the center fielder threw out Betts at third base to help stifle the Red Sox final comeback attempt. It was Laureano’s third outfield assist of the series, and his 12th in just 58 career major league games and 51 career starts.
“Rarely do you see three impactful plays like that in a series, because sometimes they stop running on you. But they continued to be aggressive on him, and every time he made a different play than the one before, but all big plays in the course of the game,” said Melvin. “It’s tough to keep finding adjectives for Ramon’s throwing, but it’s one of a kind.”
Laureano’s throw was also Oakland’s second outfield assist of the day, after left fielder Grossman cut down a runner at second base in the fourth inning.
With the homestand completed, the A’s will now head out on their first official road trip of the season. They’ll visit Houston for three against the defending AL West champion Astros this weekend, followed by four in Baltimore against an Orioles team that lost 115 games last summer, and then three in Arlington against the division rival Texas Rangers.
Extra note: Chapman was out of the lineup after being hit by a pitch on his surgically repaired wrist on Wednesday. However, he entered the game in the eighth inning as a defensive replacement, and is expected to be fully back in action on Friday. Even in just two innings on Thursday, the Platinum Glover still managed to make his presence known on defense, robbing a hit in the eighth with an impressive diving play and then later receiving Laureano’s throw in the ninth and making the tag to retire Betts.