For the second time in as many games, the fight inside the Oakland Athletics shone through as a ninth-inning deficit was erased and replaced with a Gatorade shower and shaving-cream pie.
After walking off Saturday night on a game-winning single, the A’s (14-17) punished the Detroit Tigers (15-15) and closer Francisco Rodriguez with another, this time on a soaring home run off the bat of Ryon Healy for the 8-6 victory and series win.
It was the second walk-off hit, both home runs, in the young career of Healy. The last came July 23, 2016 as the second of Oakland’s last back-to-back walk-off wins.
Sunday also brought a second-straight premature swarm of seagulls above the Rickey Henderson Field in the latter innings, one manager Bob Melvin thought looked to be about 400.
Healy wasn’t sure if the towering blast was going to clear the wall, he was also worried the circling birds would come into play:
“I honestly didn’t know, I was just hoping it wasn’t going to hit a seagull.”
The skipper shared the concern, partially in jest, adding a quick refresher regarding the ground rules:
“I didn’t know. I thought it was going to hit a seagull, to tell you the truth … and if it hits a seagull and comes down, you just play it.”
Once again, entering the ninth, things seemed bleak for Oakland, though they were trailing by a single run, 5-4.
After a significantly more stressful attack one game prior, this one unraveled much quicker with Rajai Davis drawing a walk to lead off the inning. He was immediately deposited onto the board on an RBI double from Jed Lowrie. Then, after a Khris Davis line-out, Healy leaned into a 1-0 88 mph fastball from Rodriguez (L, 1-4, 8.49 ERA), sending it just over the out-of-ton scoreboard in right.
It took flight at a scorching 104 mph, but the 41-degree launch angle stymied some of that sting.
Off the bat, Detroit left fielder Justin Upton appeared to have a beat, and room, as he retreated onto the warning track before squaring up for a catch. Alas, the wooden ledge, bordered with yellow “Holy Toledo” tape at the top of the 15-foot high wall, jutted out just enough to cradle Healy’s sixth homer of the year.
The comeback didn’t begin with Healy or Rajai, though, instead it was starter Sonny Gray (ND, 0-1, 4.22 ERA) who battled through a slew of dinks, doinks, dunks and Oakland errors. Gray was unavailable for comment following the game, but rookie reliever Bobby Wahl (ND, 0-0, 2.70 ERA), who tossed 2 scoreless frames, offered some insight into the ace’s afternoon:
“He was great. Sonny came out there and battled, he got us through and that’s why he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball: that’s what he does.”
Prior to allowing three unearned runs in a fifth that stunted his start, Sonny, who lasted 4-2/3 of seven-hit innings, was tagged with a run earned through Tiger luck. After a bloop single by Detroit second baseman Dixon Machado landed just beyond Lowrie at second, Nicholas Castellanos overcame an 0-2 fastball that on any other day would have been a swinging strikeout.
On this day, though, an excuse-me check swing on a 94 mph fastball jumped down the first base line, just inside the bag and into right field for an RBI double.
“Horrible luck. The first run is on a check-swing double, and then you got Yonder (Alonso), who very rarely makes en error, then now you’ve got a doink hit, a roller, a ball hit the other way. …Very unlucky today.”
The fifth-inning error by Alonso (2) was the second, following another by Rosales (3) in the third that caused no harm. This one, however, led to three Tiger tallies, an A’s lead and Gray’s departure. Once again, for a second straight day, the bullpen offered much relief, despite a two-run go-ahead James McCann homer (6) off Ryan Dull in the sixth.
The McCann bomb appeared to being the knockout blow in what was a middle-inning exchange between the two heavy hitters. The third-inning run by Detroit was answered in the bottom half with an Oakland two-spot. The Tigers’ three-run fifth was a counter to a two-run home run (9) by Alonso, which was greeted with a single run in the bottom half by the A’s.
They never felt out, though, according to Healy:
“I don’t think there was ever a sense of knowing that we were out of it, I think we always knew that we were going to compete, and that no matter what the scores was we had an opportunity.”
And, after a quick and painless seven-pitch top of the ninth by Santiago Casilla (W, 1-1, 3.00 ERA) the closer was rewarded by Healy, who has endured an emotional roller coaster over the past week or so — from slumping, to committing two errors in an inning Saturday, to a solo home run in that same inning, to the magical blast Sunday. All that emotion came pouring out, as the 25-year-old rounded third with a Tiger’s roar.
“He’s very understanding of how he needs to channel (the emotions), but you never want to take that away from him. That makes him who he is, because in those situations he’s afraid of nothing, he wants to be up in that situation. … He can’t wait for those types of situations and he’s a very emotional kid.”
The very well-acquainted A’s and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim open their third series in the first month-and-a-half of the season Monday. Come the conclusion of the Wednesday’s series finale, the two in-state, intra-division rivals will faced off 10 times in Oakland’s first 34 games. Kendall Graveman (2-2, 3.95 ERA) gets the ball for the home nine, having faced the familiar foe twice already. Ricky Nolasco (2-2, 4.68 ERA) will do the same for the Angels.
Yonder Alonso matched his career single-season high with his ninth home run in the fourth inning. The previous mark was set in 2012, when Alonso was a member of the San Diego Padres. It took the 30-year-old 155 games (619 at-bats) to set the mark that year, he has played just 29 games (101 at-bats) so far this season. … Starting pitcher Daniel Mengden (Monday), Sean Manaea (Tuesday) and Chris Bassitt (relief Tuesday) are each scheduled for minor league rehab outings. With singles in the fourth and fifth frames, third baseman Trevor Plouffe recorded his first multi-hit game as a member of the Oakland Athletics. He also recorded his first stolen base with the club, taking third base in the fourth.