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Inside Pitch: The 2018 A’s nine most memorable performances

The 2018 MLB season came to an end Sunday night when the Red Sox experienced the highest of the highs: a World Series championship, in the form of a 4-1 series victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In a season of highs, Boston may have felt no lower than they did on April 21, when they were held hitless in Oakland by Athletics ace Sean Manaea.

The A’s themselves enjoyed a very successful campaign, qualifying for the postseason through the lowly expectations cast upon them. Despite its abrupt end, in a Wild Card loss to the Yankees, Oakland can head into the long winter with the knowledge that the story of the 2018 season cannot be told without a chapter dedicated to the green and gold.

There were many memorable performances, both individually and as a team, that will contribute to that chapter. Here are SFBay’s top nine.

9. Piscotty’s emotional homer in Boston

After ALS took the life of his mother, Gretchen, on May 6, A’s right fielder Stephen Piscotty stayed with the club through the remainder of its homestand before taking his bereavement leave while it was in New York.

In his first game back from leave, in his first at-bat back, Piscotty launched his third homer of the season well over Boston’s Green Monster. Visibly emotional as he rounded the bags, Piscotty offered a loving tribute to his mother as he touched the plate, tapping his chest — the same way his mother had shown adoration toward the end of her life.

It was a magical moment for the East Bay native, who had understandably gotten off to a slow start.

From that day forward, Piscotty slashed .273/.338/.527 with 25 homers and 75 RBIs in 117 games becoming, as manager Bob Melvin said on numerous occasions, a key to the team’s success.

Oakland Athletics right fielder Stephen Piscotty (25) taps his heart as the crowd gives him a standing ovation in his first at bat, since his mother passed away, in the second inning of the game against the Houston Astros at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on May 8, 2018. Jeffery Bennett/SFBay

8. Opening Day walkoff

The 2018 A’s will be remembered as a club that was never out of a game — a club that was always one late rally away from snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

That reputation started early, though it never took on full life until the second half.

An inefficient Oakland offense wasted six base runners in the first four innings of the regular season, heading into the fifth on Opening Day trailing the Angels, 4-0. But a four-run fifth, jumpstarted by a Khris Davis three-run homer, set the stage for a Marcus Semien 11th-inning walk-off single.

The first was just a sign of things to come as Oakland finished the year with 10 walk-off wins.

Oakland Athletics first baseman Matt Olson (28) is congratulated by Sean Manaea (55), Mark Canha (20) and Chad Pinder (18) after hitting a walk off home run in the tenth inning as the Houston Astros fall 4-3 to the Oakland Athletics at Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Friday, August 17, 2018. Scot Tucker/SFBay

7. Laureano’s rounded debut

Center field was a position in flux through the first four months of the season. In total, nine different players appeared in games as the A’s center fielder.

Despite his not landing in Oakland until Aug. 4, Ramón Laureano finished just 11 shy of leading the club in starts at the position (42). The 24-year-old rookie answered several questions, and perhaps blessings, for Melvin and the A’s — he gave them an everyday center fielder and a reliable lead-off man.

Like the A’s showing who they were destined to be with a walk-off win on Opening Day, Laureano showed Oakland who they had in his first big league game.

After nearly hustling a routine groundout to the shortstop into an infield single in his first at-bat, the Dominican-born rookie helped keep the game scoreless with glove and more notably his arm, sending a 0-0 tie into the 13th inning where the first hit of his career yielded a walk-off RBI.

Laureano finished his first big league campaign batting .288 with a .358 on-base percentage, fiver homers, 19 RBIs, 27 runs and seven stolen bases in just 48 games. With his performance, he joined Matt Chapman and Matt Olson, each of whom named Gold Glove winners Monday, as pillar players at or under 25 years of age.

Oakland Athletics center fielder Ramón Laureano (22) grabs a hit by Texas Rangers left fielder Shin-Soo Choo (17) in the fourth inning as the Texas Rangers face the Oakland Athletics at Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday, August 22, 2018. Scot Tucker/SFBay

6. KD bags 40

The man Oakland calls “Khrush” finished the season with a league-leading 48 homers, becoming the second A’s player ever to post three consecutive 40-home run seasons along the way.

Historically consistent since joining the A’s, Davis has finished each of his three seasons in green and gold with a .247 average — though his OBP has grown each passing year — with 40-plus homers and 100-plus RBIs.

When Davis launched No. 40, in an 8-7 loss to the Mariners on Sept. 1, it wasn’t his best performance of the year — not by a long shot — but it boosted him into elite company and cemented his spot as the game’s most prolific power hitter.

Oakland Athletics designated hitter Khris Davis (2) salutes after a two run home run in the first inning as the Minnesota Twins face the Oakland Athletics at Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Friday, September 21, 2018. Scot Tucker/SFBay

5. A’s allow one run in sweep of the Tigers

For much of the season, starting pitching was Oakland’s weakness. But from Aug. 3 to Aug. 5 that unit was the best in the business.

In a three-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers, including a 13-inning 1-0 victory (see No. 7), A’s pitchers surrendered one unearned run.

Brett Anderson started the series with seven scoreless frames, and was backed up by starters Edwin Jackson (6-1/3 scoreless) and Trevor Cahill (six scoreless). Not to be outdone, the Oakland bullpen held Detroit scoreless over 11-2/3.

Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Brett Anderson (30) throws a pitch in the first inning as the Detroit Tigers face the Oakland Athletics at Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Friday, August 3, 2018. Scot Tucker/SFBay

4. four-run sixth turns the tables on A’s season

The A’s entered play on June 16 11 games back of the fifth and final American League postseason spot — the spot they would eventually seize. They trailed that game 3-1 through five innings.

Semien led off that sixth inning with a solo homer, Jonathan Lucroy drew a bases-loaded walk and Piscotty gave Oakland a lead it would not relinquish with a two-run single to cap the monster frame. The A’s snagged victory that day, a seemingly meaningless comeback.

But it started something so much greater. From there the A’s went a league-best 63-29 (.685), perhaps staving off July trades of all-stars Blake Treinen and Jed Lowrie, and maybe even Davis, instead becoming a postseason club and announcing their presence as a contender with authority.

3. ‘The Bridge’

Continuing with the theme of walkoffs, the A’s scored back-to-back walk-off wins to grab a series victory from the San Francisco Giants on July 22.

The second, a Chapman bases-loaded game-winning single, gave Oakland a 4-2 season series victory over San Francisco, bragging rights and claim to “The Bridge” in its inaugural year.

“The Bridge” trophy (shown below) was the brain child of the A’s, Giants and NBC Sports Bay Area, constructed from scrap steel reclaimed from the Bay Bridge, and will be on display at A’s headquarters in Jack London Square following Chapman’s winner.

Oakland Athletics Manager Bob Melvin (6) shows off the Bay Bridge trophy to the fans following the game against the San Francisco Giants at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on July 22, 2018. Melvin was present with the Bay Bridge trophy after the Athletics won the season series against the giants 4-2. Jeffery Bennett/SFBay

2. No-hitter

In a season full of magic no magician pulled a larger rabbit from the memorable hat than Manaea.

The third-year lefty’s first no-hitter ever (at any level) came facing a Red Sox club that entered the game with a 17-2 record, the best winning percentage (.895) of any team ever to be held without a hit. It was also the first time since 1990 that a team leading the league in scoring was no-hit.

Long story short, it was one of the most unlikely no-hitters in the more than 110-year existence of Major League Baseball.

It also offered emphasis on a historically dominant month from the A’s ace.

1. Emerald City clinch

Only one thing could have possibly topped Manaea’s dance with destiny: a postseason berth.

And while Oakland put together a solid 7-3 victory over the Mariners in Seattle, it carried little meaning as their spot in the playoffs had been sewn up following a Rays loss earlier in the evening.

Still, the A’s played like a playoff team, homering four times to support a solid pitching performance, and they celebrated like a team used to doing so.

Perhaps the greatest and most memorable performances from that night alone belong to Melvin, for his inspiring words, Cahill, for his dancing, and Chapman, for his liquored-soaked entertainment.

The grandest prize may have gone to Boston, but the Red Sox cannot take away from the surprise, excitement, entertainment and success the A’s brought to Oakland.

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