Thursday’s season opener went full circle for the Athletics, who were unable to create anything from six base runners in the first four innings.
But riding the power and relief pitching for which this club was lauded prior to first pitch, the A’s (1-0) overcame an early 4-0 deficit and set up Marcus Semien for a walkoff single dispatching the Angels (0-1), 6-5, in 11 innings.
This marks the second time in franchise history that the A’s overcame a deficit of six or more runs to win on Opening Day, the last coming in 1925.
Manager Bob Melvin called the drawn out victory “excruciating,” saying:
“It was nice to come back from being down like we were. Down four and their guy is rolling pretty good, next thing you know it’s 4-4.”
The A’s fell into that early hole not because Los Angeles ace Garrett Richards was untouchable, but because they couldn’t finish their many early rallies. Oakland was held hitless in their first five at-bats with runners in scoring position, a worrisome position for an offense tagged as such an improved group from last Opening Day to this.
That fear went bye-bye, though, sailing out of the Oakland Coliseum on the wings of a 411-foot, two-out, two-strike, three-run blast (1) by Khris Davis in the fifth. Just for good measure, Matt Olson followed with a solo shot (1) into the BBQ Terrace just inside the right-field foul pole.
Davis added an RBI single in seventh, tying things at 5-5.
The designated hitter suffered through a spring as long and dry as an Arizona summer, batting .127 (7-for-55). Said the skipper:
“Everybody was a little bit worried about KD. Then the bell rings and he does his thing.”
A’s starter Kendall Graveman (ND, 0-0, 9.00 ERA), who struck out the first batter he faced, had allowed six hits and four runs, striking just the one, through the fifth —having thrown 74 pitches. He was sent back to the bump, in a 4-4 ties, to get one right-handed hitter. That one hitter was future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols. Pujols uncorked, launching career homer (1) No. 615 to give his Angels a renewed lead.
Melvin said the rough outing was not indicative of his ace’s stuff, or the expectations the club has in him:
“A couple bad pitches — he looked like he had really good stuff. … He’ll have better outings than this one.”
Richards (ND, 0-0, 7.20 ERA) was better but only by the slightest bit, holding Oakland to four earned runs in his 5 frames. And he did so despite facing a total of 10 base runners — seven hits and three walks.
Where the home team separated itself from the SoCal rivals was in the bullpen. While the Angel ‘pen was impressive, holding the A’s to five hits and two runs in 5-1/3 innings of work, Oakland’s was nearly untouchable. The relief corps provided a firsthand glimpse into its possible future, muffling the previously vociferous lineup to six hits in 6 scoreless frames.
“Coming in, you know you have to be good, and they were. (The Angels) have quite a deep lineup … so, to come in and do what our bullpen did, basically having to do that, was impressive.”
Graveman said that efforts like the one put forth by his brothers in arm will make the team in its entirety a more confident bunch:
“Obviously, (I’m) disappointed on my end, the way I threw the baseball today. But, you hand the ball over with a one-run deficit … those guys come in and shut the door.
Chris Hatcher (W, 1-0, 0.00 ERA) was the recipient of Semien’s winner for his 1-inning, two-hit, two-strikeout afternoon. Semien was the recipient of a golden opportunity, afforded him by a Boog Powell one-out triple just off the tip of Angel left fielder Justin Upton‘s glove. Faced with a first-and-third, one-out situation, Los Angeles skipper Mike Scioscia employed a trick defense, sacrificing an outfielder for an extra infielder.
Samien said he saw the wide open space in straight-away center field and took aim:
“You think, use the big part of the field with three outfielders. But it really made it look big out there, kinda like a field goal.”
The shortstop was good, plopping a bloop single into what would have been the center fielder’s position on the field sending most of the nearly-30,000 home happy
Reliever Noe Ramirez (L, 0-1, 6.75 ERA) was the victim of the strange defense, and Semien’s 50-yard extra point. Zack Cozart (1) and Kole Calhoun (1) each homered and matched Semien and Angel catcher Martín Maldonado with a game-high three hits. Davis was the only hitter to tally more than one RBI, driving in four runs and got two of the A’s three hits in 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
Matt Chapman scored his first web gem of the season, streaking from his shifted position near Semien’s footprints to make a lunging catch in foul territory, between the rolled rain tarp and the new section of field-level seats. Melvin said after the game that it is a play most third baseman wouldn’t make an attempt at.
Of the complete effort, highlighted by the bullpen, Graveman said:
“Gives us more confidence, as starters, to go keep the team in the ballgame, keep it close, and we’ll nail it down, and we’re going to score some runs.”
The A’s and Angels play their first meaningful game under the lights Friday night. Sean Manaea, 12-10 with a 4.37 ERA last year, will get the ball for the home nine facing Tyler Skaggs. Manaea is 1-2 with a 5.10 ERA in six career starts against the Angels.
Shohei Ohtani, the Angels’ international free agent acquisition from Japan, made his major league debut lining the first pitch he saw into right field for a single. He finished his major league debut 1-for-5 with a strikeout. A’s Manager Bob Melvin said he was impressed with Ohtani’s swing, along with the tools of which he came in aware:
“looks to be quite the pain in my side.”
This was the seventh Opening Day extra-inning game in Oakland A’s history, the most recent coming in 2012. The A’s are now 3-4 in those games.