After jumping out to a quick 0-2 advantage on lead-off man Dexter Fowler, first-year starter Dillon Overton missed the zone with his next three offerings. He followed with a fastball down the middle which was sent over the wall for Fowler’s fifth lead-off homer of the season — 19th of his career — and the Cubs (67-41) never looked back.
Behind seven strong from lefty Jon Lester, Chicago handed the A’s (48-61) their sixth loss in the last seven contests, pushing the home team to a season-worst-matching 13 games below .500.
Of his team, which will likely afford many youngsters opportunities in the season’s final two months, manager Bob Melvin said:
“You’re always looking to see how younger players respond this time of year. … It’s always a bit of an audition for younger guys.”
The Cubs added on to Fowler’s lead-off jack (9) right away, when designated hitter Jorge Soler launched a three-run bomb (6) with two down in the same frame.
Overton (L, 1-3, 10.97 ERA) danced around a pair of two-out hits for a scoreless second, but lost the step in the third when he was punched for three more runs in the third — it was the finishing blow. The rookie left-hander departed having allowed nine hits and seven runs in his three frames. With two more home runs, he has now served up 11 in his 21-1/3 innings as a major leaguer.
The Oklahoma-born lefty said that he is still trying to gins his way in major league baseball:
“I was telling my parents, after my last outing, for a rookie I might have given up the most home runs in my first four or five starts. It’s a crappy feeling — you don’t want to do that — but I’m still adjusting to this league.”
“You’re whole life, you’ve been the best player. Then you come up here and everybody is the best player, it’s not just you.”
While the bullpen entered the fray far sooner than the skipper could have hoped, the group’s young guns came in red hot.
Like Zach Neal (1-1, 5.25 ERA) — who boasts a 2.12 ERA since May 25 — did a day earlier, fellow rookie right-handed reliever Andrew Triggs (0-0, 5.08 ERA) — 1.72 ERA since June 3 — continued his recent tear tossing a pair of scoreless innings. Daniel Coulombe (1-1, 3.33 ERA) — 1.76 ERA since June 14 — added on to his own stretch of dominance, providing three scoreless innings.
Melvin continues to be impressed by their performance:
“We needed innings out of these guys. We needed three out of Daniel. We needed two out of Trggsy. We only had one more guy that we were going to use tonight, so it was important that they give us the innings they did. And they were successful doing it.”
In his first appearance since being traded from the Kansas City Royals, in exchange for Billy Burns, Brett Eibner collected his first his as an Athletic — a solo home run (4) leading off the sixth — giving his new team its second hit and first run. Rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell joined the demonstration, picking up his first extra-base hit — a double — in the sixth, before scoring his first career run. Third baseman Ryon Healy added a hit — the fifth in his last three games.
The green-clad greenhorns were no match for the wily veteran, and former Athletic, Lester (W, 12-4, 2.93 ERA), though.
Allowing just the two runs while striking out eight, Lester scattered six hits en route to his sixth win since June 1 — just one loss over the stretch.
The A’s will get a second crack at the team with baseball’s best record, when the two teams take the field for a Saturday afternoon tilt. Sonny Gray (5-10, 5.84 ERA) will continue his search to reclaim his CY Young finalist form of years past. His work will be cut out for him, though, as he will be facing the reigning NL CY Young Award winner Jake Arrieta (12-5, 2.75 ERA).