Coming off a scratched start, lost to a groin strain, six days ago, Jharel Cotton made it though 5 scoreless frames before he was lifted Sunday.
Matched by four zeroes from Texas starter Martin Perez, Cotton needed a tally from his offense to claim a fourth home win this season. Matt Chapman, Jed Lowrie and Khris Davis gave him five and the victory, as the Athletics ran away from the Rangers 8-1.
Texas (76-79) arrived in Oakland within striking distance of the American League’s second Wild Card spot, but fell victim to the A’s (72-83), who swept to push their season-high win streak to seven games.
Cotton(W, 9-10, 5.58 ERA), who was irritated by the perceived slight of Adrian Beltre‘s comments in Texas’ last trip to Oakland, said there was some extra joy in sweeping the Rangers and throwing a wrench in their postseason aspirations, shoving them to the edge of elimination:
“The young bucks came to play. We’re doing what we’ve gotta do to win.”
Cotton, though, was just barely afforded the win for his solid effort. It took a five-hit barrage, initiated by his catcher Josh Phegley, to overcome the Texas lefty.
Although Perez (L, 12-12, 4.83 ERA) had held the line through four frames, his inability to command the strike zone was evident from the first, when he walked both Lowrie and Davis after two outs had been recorded. He walked two more in the second, escaping another jam with the assistance of a Mark Canha double play. But it wasn’t missed locations out of the zone that bit him in the fifth, it was missed locations within it.
Chapman’s screamer into the left-center field gap yielded an RBI single, and Lowrie’s looping liner to right, thanks in large part to an excellent jump from the speedy Chapman, netted two more. The big blow, though, came from Davis, who crushed a two-run blast (41) 445 feet high off the hitter’s backdrop in center.
Phegley said after the game that it was nice to get his starter the win:
“It was kinda a stalemate there for a few innings, it was tough to get anything going on either side. … He put together a gutty performance, so we had to reward him.”
Manager Bob Melvin added on, saying that it will benefit his team going into the 2018 season with the confidence that it can put together big rallies:
“We have the ability to do that. When we’re healthy, we feel like we have a pretty deep lineup. … We’re going to have to sustain some rallies to be a really good team, and not have to rely just on home runs, so it’s good to be able to see that and do that.”
It does help, however, to slap an exclamation point on one of those rallies with a gargantuan blast. So said Cotton:
“That was pretty cool — KD hitting that all close to the window, that was pretty cool to watch.”
Cotton needed 77 pitches, but held Texas to one hit, a two-out first-inning single up the middle by Elvis Andrus, in his 5 innings of work. He walked one and struck out six.
That strikeout total go a little lift, when, in the fifth, Cotton blew through the bottom of the Texas order striking out each of the three batters he face. He did so needing 11 pitches, 10 of which — the last 10 of the inning — being his bread-and-butter weapon, the changeup.
Melvin said that when Cotton is throwing strikes and can create a 20-mph gap between the heater and change — like he did with a mid-90s fastball and mid-80s changeup on Sunday — he “can make you look pretty silly.”
For the pitcher himself, it was easy to lean heavily on his go-to pitch down the stretch:
“I saw that they weren’t hitting the changeup so I just kept with it.”
Cotton’s pronounced struggles this season, particularly at home where he had carried a 7.52 ERA entering Sunday’s contest, netted a minor league option in May. Now, he looks forward to his final start of the season and heading into winter with a chip on his shoulder.
Nomar Mazara homered in the seventh off Simon Castro, denying the A’s their second consecutive shutout and ending the Oakland scoreless inning streak at 21. It was the Rangers’ only extra-base hit, joining singles by Andrus and Delino DeShields.
Phegley and Chapman collected two hits apiece to lead the way for Oakland, whose 14 wins in September are the most in any month of the season by the team. The A’s are 14-8 this month.
Coming off the sweep, Oakland launches into its final homestand of 2017, hosting the Mariners (75-80). The A’s have lost 10 of their 16 previous matchups with Seattle, including six in a row and all five since the All-Star break. They will, however, enter the series carrying a season-high seven-game winning streak.
Bruce Maxwell, who became the first MLB player to kneel during the National Anthem Saturday, continued his activism Sunday. While he refused further comment prior to the game, his coach and several teammates offered their statements support and encouragement. Mark Canha, who stood to Maxwell’s side with his left hand on the catcher’s right shoulder both days, told Bay Area News Group’s Martin Gallegos:
“I’m fully supportive of my teammate, and it’s coming from a place of agreeing there needs to be change in the social environment of our country.”
Manager Bob Melvin said that the blow of Maxwell’s decision was softened after a discussion within the clubhouse, which was not entirely in support:
“He could not have handled the communication any better than he did. The last thing he wanted was for anyone to be surprised. It made it a more comfortable situation.”
Said Jed Lowrie, among the few veteran voices within that clubhouse, regarding the activism which has grown in the NFL and been expanded in Major League Baseball by Maxwell:
“That’s their right and something that they are protected under our Constitution to do. I think if they feel they can use this platform to further their cause, I’m all for that.”
Melvin said after the game that minor elbow tightness attributed to Jharel Cotton’s early departure, but said it was of little concern. Cotton said he feels fine, calling the removal purely precautionary. … Matt Olson was also removed early, in the seventh, with what Melvin called “a little bit of a hamstring thing.” Like Cotton, Melvin said it was minor.