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Back-to-back homers sting Fiers in A’s season debut

The A’s came up short for the first time this season in a walk-off opportunity Friday night, failing to get the tying runner home from third in the ninth inning of a 3-2 loss to the Orioles.

Solo homers from Sean Murphy (4) and Mitch Moreland (3) weren’t enough, as the A’s (16-11) trailed most of the game and couldn’t get the tying run home from third in either of the final two innings. Mike Fiers made his 2021 debut, pitching six innings and taking the loss.

Baltimore LHP John Means had a 1-2-3 first inning but when Murphy led off the second, he quickly made it 1-0 when he smashed a bomb to right-center. Aside for the Murphy homer which was followed by a Matt Chapman walk, Means (W, 3-0, 1.70 ERA) locked Oakland down until the seventh with two outs, when he gave up a solo blast to Mitch Moreland (3) to make it 3-2.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the A’s clubhouse at the Oakland Coliseum.

Means allowed three hits in seven innings, striking out nine with just the walk to Chapman. Both starters gave up a pair of homers, but Fiers (L, 0-1, 4.50 ERA) served up back-to-back shots to Cedric Mullins (4) and Austin Hays (3) in the top of the third.

Fiers had an alright debut. He allowed three hits through four, but unfortunately for him, two were homers. The A’s trailed 2-1 after the third, but the Orioles found some rhythm in the fifth.

Fiers said he felt good taking the mound for his first start and explained the back-to-back homers:

“Hat off to Mullins, he is coming out of the gate hot here in ’21. It was a cutter away inside about three balls off the plate, in. To get enough to get it out then to also keep it fair, it was insane and then the one to Hays just has to be below the zone. Anything soft in the zone he is really good on so just need to be down a little bit so he took advantage of that mistake and you know, a couple hits here and there and they scrap on another run and that’s all they needed tonight.”

Chance Sisco singled before Ramón Urias doubled down the third baseline past a diving Chapman to put runners on second and third with no outs. Fiers was able to keep the Orioles to just one run when Mullins grounded out to Tony Kemp to make it 3-1. Kemp saved the inning for Fiers, cleanly fielding Mullins’ 101-mph grounder and catching a shallow pop-up on the first base line and quickly throwing home to hold Urias at third to keep a second run from scoring.

Fiers was pleased with his defense and talked about Kemp, who saved him from having a fourth run scored:

“Tony has played well for us, especially defensively. He puts his body on the line, like a lot of these guys and I can’t say enough about our defense. We definitely make plays and me as a pitcher it makes me calm down even more on the mound. Just throw strikes, try to let them put the ball in play, try to get weak contact, but not try to strike everyone out and let the defense work and most of the time we are going to come out on top.”

Fiers walked his second batter of the night, DJ Stewart, to lead off the sixth on four straight balls. Deolis Guerra warmed up in the bullpen while Ryan Mountcastle singled to left to put runners on first and second with no outs. Rio Ruiz, who was 1-for-1 with a walk, had a 2-0 count before a mound visit by pitching coach Scott Emerson. Two strikes followed before Ruiz grounded into a 6-3 double play. Stewart was left stranded on third and Fiers escaped the inning scoreless to keep the game at 3-1.

Fiers walked two batters and struck out three in 88 pitches with 54 strikes. Guerra pitched the seventh for the A’s and threw the first perfect inning since Fiers’ first. Guerra struck out two looking, including Orioles slugger Mullins to end the inning.

Sergio Romo followed Guerra’s lead and pitched a perfect eighth with two strikeouts. Yusmeiro Petit kept the Orioles scoreless even though he allowed two hits in the ninth inning.

LHP Paul Fry relieved Means and walked Kemp walked with one out. Kemp stole second and landed on third after a passed ball from catcher Sisco. Kemp was the tying runner on third with one out and top of the order in Mark Canha at the plate. Fry struck out Canha before Travis Lakins Sr. entered and walked Ramon Laureano to put runners on the corners. Jed Lowrie popped out to end the inning leaving the two men who drew walks stranded.

The A’s had multiple opportunities to come back late in the game when Means was relieved but couldn’t get the job done. Bob Melvin said the team just couldn’t come through and explained what he would have liked to have seen to get the tying runner in:

“Well, we are trying to elevate and get a run in. You are not going to come through all the time so you give yourself enough opportunities you will, we just didn’t tonight.”

César Valdez (S, 6) pitched the ninth inning for the Orioles up 3-2. Murphy led off the ninth and smashed a line drive single to left. Vimael Machin pinch ran for Murphy before Matt Chapman — on a full count — singled to right. The A’s had runners on first and second with no outs and Moreland up, not the guy you want at the plate if you were Valdez.

Melvin said Fiers kept his team in the game and broke down the final innings of the game when Means was relieved: 

“You go up against a good pitcher, it’s going to be tough to score runs. Our pitching held them down too, its just about getting a big hit or two late in the game. Typically at home we end up doing that, we just didn’t today. Moreland’s ball was smoked, a few feet to the right or left it’s a little different story.”

Moreland hit a line drive to third baseman Ruiz who caught it on the fly and quickly threw it to second for what was called a double play. The A’s challenged the call that clearly appeared to be safe, and after one minute and four seconds, ended what seemed like a cursed first month of replay reviews and got their tying runner back on second base with one out.

Seth Brown pinch hit for Stephen Piscotty, who had been 0-for-4 all night. Brown worked a full count and hit a ball to deep center for the second out, allowing Machin to take third. Elvis Andrus stepped up with runners on the corners, but he flew out to center to end the game.

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