OAKLAND — As he circled the bases, A’s catcher Sean Murphy looked stoic.
In the stands at the Oakland Coliseum, his parents Mike and Marge went wild, celebrating their son’s first big-league hit — a home run — in his major league debut, a 4-0 win over the Los Angeles Angels. When he met battery-mate Tanner Roark in the dugout, Roark asked if Murphy’s heart was beating faster. “It’s the same game I’ve been playing,” Murphy said. “It’s nothing different.”
“I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s impressive.’” Roark said, following the game.
Murphy, the A’s No. 3 prospect, caught all nine innings, getting a quick start on proving that he may wind up being the franchise’s catcher of the future. With his 1-for-3 night, Murphy joined the likes of Homer Bailey, Seth Brown and Roark as impact additions to a roster that continues to fight for its playoff life.
“I’m happier about the shutout,” Murphy said. “I’m happier that we won, stepping into a ball club that needs to win every night. I could’ve gone 0-for, but as long as we won I would’ve been happy.”
With the win, the A’s moved to 80-58 – tying their season-high 22 games over .500 – and kept pace with the Cleveland Indians for the second American League wild card.
“He did a great job,” Roark said of Murphy, who has long been lauded for his work behind the plate. “As we went along in the game, the more it was quick and I was saying ‘yes’ to everything, which is what you want.”
Besides collecting his first career long ball, Murphy proved a solid battery-mate to Roark, who was magnificent in his own right, firing 6 2/3 scoreless innings while the A’s pulled away late.
In the first inning, Roark struck out Shohei Ohtani to quell an early two-out rally – runners on second and third – but Murphy got crossed up and the pitch bounced off his chest protector and back toward the mound.
Murphy would recover to throw Ohtani out but walked back to the dugout talking with his pitcher about the miscommunication.
“We were mixed up,” Roark said. “It was definitely my fault.”
Murphy said that his pitcher only took blame to cover for him, a move that already displays the young backstop’s leadership.
As is Roark’s tendency – with an MLB-high average of 17.9 pitches per inning – the A’s starter labored to pitch into the seventh, but kept the Angels off the scoreboard, working out of a number of jams, including a two-out bases-loaded jam in the fourth.
“It’s the foul balls that kind of get him in trouble as far as the pitch count goes,” said manager Bob Melvin. “But I thought he was effective the entire night. It was tough taking him out.”
Through 113 pitches, Roark limited Los Angeles to seven baserunners and struck out six for his fifth straight start of at least six innings. Despite his inefficiency, the right-hander now has 2.70 ERA in six starts with Oakland and has allowed more than two runs in only one of them.
Jurickson Profar hit a second-inning solo shot to put Oakland up early, and also made a couple of exceptional plays in left field – as Sheldon Neuse got the start at second – as the player signed to be the A’s everyday second baseman seems to produce wherever the A’s need him.
“He’s knocked in some big runs for us,” Melvin said of Profar. “He comes with a smile on his face everyday. It’s the type of guy that you really want to pull for.”
The offense scuffled through the next two innings but received a jolt with one out in the fifth on Murphy’s solo homer, which opened a three-run inning.
“That’s not the last time you’ll see him hit a home run like that,” Melvin said. “He’s got power all around the field.”
In the next at-bat, Sheldon Neuse stung a liner into right to get on base for Marcus Semien, who proceeded to blast his 26th big fly deep into the left field seats. With the homer, Semien tied his career-high in RBIs with 75 and is just one short of his high mark for home runs.
Staked to a 4-0 lead, the bullpen trio of Yusmeiro Petit – who continues to pace the AL in appearances with 71 – Joakim Soria and Liam Hendriks closed out the game behind Roark’s best start as an Athletic. Roark, though, was most impressed by the rookie.
“He shows a lot of maturity,” Roark said. “I never saw an ounce of frustration on his face at all. That’s really good.”