The Oakland A’s are defending their Achilles heel, and they’re beginning to do it well.
They beat division rival Texas Rangers Thursday afternoon, 7-0, in what nearly became their second straight one-run win before a late explosion. Before June, the A’s winning a one-run game was unimaginable. Winning two straight would have been even harder to believe.
Oakland won it on the back of their defense. Rookie outfielder Billy Burns made plays destined for the season highlight reel and starter Scott Kazmir (W, 3-4, 2.79 ERA, 6 K, 1 hit) was lighting up the Rangers, allowing only one hit in eight innings.
Reliever Evan Scribner pitched a perfect ninth inning to cap Oakland’s third one-hitter of the season.
Oakland got 11 baserunners but just a single first-inning run against rookie sensation Chi Chi Gonzalez (L, 2-1, 0.42 ERA, 4 K, 8 hits), who takes his first career loss after throwing six innings of no-hit ball to follow up 14-2/3 shutout innings — including a complete game — in his first two major league outings.
While Gonzalez was in, though, the A’s demons remained. They left several runners in scoring position despite their chippiness, and it all came together after Gonzalez exited.
Mark Canha blasted a shot to left in the eighth inning, scoring Stephen Vogt, the day’s designated hitter, to break open a game in which the A’s seemed destined to win. Burns scored the only run of the first seven innings on a single from Ben Zobrist.
The late-game insurance would’ve been welcomed in April or May, not as if it isn’t in June, though it didn’t seem necessary Thursday. The A’s played their brand of baseball, and in textbook fashion, forgoing any of their prior problems.
Photos by Scot Tucker/SFBay
Said manager Bob Melvin of the defensive prowess behind Kazmir:
“Across the board. Especially in the middle of the diamond, which is where you expect it. Marcus (Semien) made some good plays, Billy (Burns) made some good plays. All around. And when you have a tight game, a well pitched game, it adds to the momentum when you’re playing defense on top of it.”
Defense has been one of the biggest issues for the A’s this season, and has seeped into other aspects of their game.
Players pressing too hard to make a play and attempting to overcome team deficiencies has led to disappointment and heartbreak.
The A’s will need to win 65 percent of their remaining games to have an outside shot at the Wild Card, and likely need to win 75 percent to win the division.
However better the A’s prospects seem to be getting, they remain far from certain. Melvin said:
“To get that good feeling that we had yesterday, getting a walkoff, and in a place that we’re kind of used to getting it the last few years, hopefully carried in to today. And I think it did some. But we have to sustain it.”
Burns has been a recent savior for the A’s, making plays in every category and showing tools that the club doesn’t admit they were aware of. His diving grab in the eighth inning was something close to a comic book illustration, and his at bats are becoming increasingly fruitful.
Atop the order on most nights, Burns has 45 hits and 14 multiple hit games, which leads American League rookies. The recent rookie class in baseball is nothing to scoff at, either, Rangers third baseman Joey Gallo being a solid example.
Gallo went 3-for-4 in his first major league game, including a home run, and hit his second big league knock in his second day with the club. Others, like the Cubs’ Kris Bryant, are setting the league ablaze.
But Burns is doing it all, and with much lower expectations than other notables. Kazmir said:
“That right there, that gets you going as a pitcher. … Especially the play in the eighth inning, but you cant forget the diving play.”
Reddick also chimed in:
“It was fun to watch. … The catch at the wall was something impressive. I watched the replay and it didn’t look like he had his eyes on the ball when he jumped. It was pretty amazing what he did right there. And at a huge spot. You look at the score now, and those plays can be overlooked. But in one run ballgames, those plays can be huge for us.”
The sustainability of Burns’ success will probably be questioned by many nationally, and rightfully so. It’s rare that an unheralded player comes in and lights things up like he has. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
The A’s certainly wish it would. They need it, especially when the trade season is looming, even if it makes the decision to play consumer or shopkeeper even tougher.
Burns will continue to get his shot as the A’s embark on a rare five-game road trip, leaving for Southern California to play three games at the Angels and two versus the Padres. They then return to Oakland to play two more against San Diego.