Billy Burns fireworks send A’s home winners
Lasting a season-high 7 innings, Graveman held the Angels (29-38) to just one run on three hits and finished his night retiring the last 13 batters he faced. Angels hurler Matt Shoemaker (ND, 3-8, 4.50 ERA) was equally outstanding, allowing just one earned run over six innings of two-hit ball.
After receiving his first ever pie in the face, the center fielder was quick to praise his teammates:
“I really felt like we did that in the last inning there. Not even just the last inning, but the whole game, with Kendall Graveman doing his part and pitching an awesome game, and holding us in it. And even though we got it tied up in the end there, we came back as a team and picked ourselves up and got a win. That was huge for us.”
Within the first 14 batters of the game, each team’s shortstop had committed a throwing error. Graveman (ND, 2-6, 4.87 ERA) was able to bail out Marcus Semien, getting Angels designated hitter Jefry Marte to line out ending the first inning.
Andrelton Simmons‘ second-inning error was much more egregious.
After making an sliding pickup on a grounder ticketed for left field, the two-time Gold Glove Award winner forced an unnecessary throw to first. The throw eluded first baseman Albert Pujols, allowing Danny Valencia — who had been on first — just enough time to advance to third.
Two batters later, Yonder Alonso lifted a fly ball into medium-deep right field, sending Valencia home with the game’s first run.
Following a Kole Calhoun game-tying solo home run (9) in the third, Khris Davis, who was responsible for the single on which Simmons was credited with his sixth error of the season, launched a homer (16) to reclaim the lead. It was Davis’ seventh go-ahead home run of the season.
Graveman made the lead stand into the eighth, when he handed the ball to the bullpen.
Manager Bob Melvin said that he lifted his starter after seven complete, despite having thrown just 91 pitches, because he wanted Graveman to “finish on a good note:”
“(That was) the best we’ve seen him in a while. I think he found out that he can throw his sinker in the zone, as long as it’s down, he’s going to get a lot of ground balls.”
Graveman acknowledged that he did lean heavily on the sinker, per the advice of his catcher Stephen Vogt, after Calhoun homered on a breaking ball:
“The sinker was working today, and we stuck with it. That wasn’t the gameplan going in, we thought we would have to mix up offspeed, but that’s the way baseball is some times: you go in with a gameplan and something else is working really well so you stick to it.”
After a quiet eighth, the ninth provided a pyrotechnic preview in advance of A’s fireworks night.
With pinch-runner Todd Cunningham at first, Daniel Nava sent a liner into right-center field. What was first ruled a diving snag by Jake Smolinski — which he turned into an apparent game-ending double play — was ruled a trap by review officials.
Cunningham, who saw the line drive as a hit early, rounded second and headed to third. For his aggression, he was rewarded the extra 90, which set up a game-tying sacrifice fly off the bat of Johnny Giavotella.
Burns said that, despite Smolinski thinking he had made the catch, he expected the call to be overturned. But he wasn’t positive:
“He came over to me, all excited, and I didn’t say anything. Then he asked me directly, ‘I caught it, right?’ And I said, ‘no.’ I pulled him because I didn’t want anyone to read my lips, because I was hoping that maybe it was one of those that you couldn’t overturn.”
The Oakland offense proved it wasn’t shell shocked by the events of the top half.
With two down in the inning, Semien — who recovered from his early blunder to make several stellar defensive plays — drew a six-pitch walk. With the outfield in no-doubles defense, an innocent fly ball from Smolinski turned into a bloop single.
As he does so often, Burns stepped in with aggression on his mind, chopping the first pitch of the at-bat just past Simmons, driving home Semien for a walk-off single.
Although the player who records the walk-off hit is often referred to as the “walk-off hero,” Burns cautioned that as untrue:
“It was great, of course. It’s nice, especially when you don’t get hits the whole game, then you come up and come through for the team, and find a way. But the real hero tonight was Kendall Graveman, just throwing seven solid innings, he was awesome tonight. I just happened to be the last hitter.”
The American League West’s California rivals will go at it again on Saturday, when former San Francisco Giants ace Tim Lincecum makes his Angels debut. His opposition in the late afternoon tilt has not yet been announced.
With a third-inning triple Coco Crisp has now collected 24 three-baggers in his Athletics career — the most by any player in A’s franchise history.