For the third time in four days, the Oakland Athletics were threatened by a bid at a no-hitter. For the second time in that stretch, they rose from the depths to claim an improbable one-run victory.
After breaking up perfection in the sixth on Saturday, and getting their first hit in the eighth in a 1-0 win on Sunday, the A’s (58-80) were held without a base runner until the a one-out, sixth-inning single from Ryon Healy before piecing together a three-run rally in the eighth.
Healy added an RBI knock in the eighth before fellow rookie infielder Joey Wendle put Oakland ahead with a two-run hit, leading his team to a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (62-76) Tuesday night.
After seven overpowering frames, Ricky Nolasco was unable to get an out in the eighth, taking the loss. For his two innings of relief, John Axford was credited with the win in support of starter Zach Neal,who tossed six innings while allowing two runs.
Healy said that his team’s late-game fight is the product of patience — and understanding baseball:
“It’s just kind the ebbs and flows of the game. Whether we get 10 hits in the first five innings and lose, or get four hits in back-half of the game and win … it’s staying in the process, and focusing on your approach at the plate, and allowing the results to come.”
Before Wendle collected the second and third RBIs, and first game-winning hit, of his young career he put on a defensive display that had his teammates and manager in awe. Flashing his ability to get to balls to his left and right, the 26-year-old recorded assists in all three outs in the second inning.
He said getting involved on the defensive end early serves benefit late in games:
“It’s good to get the first ground-ball out in a game, and kind of get the nerves over a little bit. Neal told me today, before the game, ‘I’m going to try to get you 10 ground balls.’ We got about half-way there.”
Along with stellar plays from his double-play partner Marcus Semien, Wendle and the Oakland defense made an eighth-inning, go-ahead rally possible. Even in the fourth frame, an inning in which the Angels scored their only runs, the defense helped Neal (ND, 2-4, 5.07 ERA) limit the damage.
All-Stars Mike Trout and Albert Pujols who entered the game with a combined .365 average (42-for-115) against the A’s in 2016, got the scoring started after leading off the fourth with a walk and single respectively.
After and RBI double from Andrelton Simmons, though, the defensive-minded shortstop broke baseball’s golden rule — making the final out of the inning at third, tagged by Semien 20 feet from the bag, thanks in large part to a perfect throw from Khris Davis near the left-field corner.
From there, Neal — who lasted 6 frames, allowing four hits while striking out five on just three days of rest — and Axford (W, 5-4, 4.47 ERA), who allowed one hit in his 2 innings of work, held the line.
“(Neal and Axford) did a great job all night, holding that roster to two runs — incredible. A lot of credit to them and a big win for us. … Words can’t describe how special (Neal’s effort) was. It’s a lot of fun playing behind him.”
The Oakland spot starter said that he felt great, despite his relief appearance on Friday. As for his struggling offense, Neal was both supportive and lighthearted:
“Hitting is — I had to do it in St. Louis, and I don’t know how to do it at all, so I understand what they’re going through a little bit — it’s the hardest thing to do in any sport. …We’re never out of it. We’re never going to stop fighting.”
Nolasco (L, 5-13, 4.90 ERA) was overcome by that fight in the eighth, although a four-pitch, lead-off walk to Yonder Alonso got the inning off to a shaky start.
Following a Billy Butler single, a Semien walk preceded a bloop-single from Healy. Wendle capped the rally with a chopper that snuck just under the glove of first baseman C.J. Cron, who had been pulled in in hopes of cutting down the tying run at home.
Manager Bob Melvin was impressed with the overall performance of the rookie infielder:
“When you get involved that much defensively — we’re getting a look at the kind of range he has. … He’s got a lot of range, and all our metrics say he’s a really good defender. Then, to get a big hit like that, for a guy that just got called up that really lets him settle in.”
“We’ve got four weeks left in the season, and we’re going to go out scrapping — playing as hard as we can every game.”
Closer Ryan Madson (5-4, 3.02 ERA) continued his dominant second half, blowing through the heart of the Angels lineup with a perfect ninth, picking up the save (28).
The rivalry will be renewed in Oakland for the final time in 2016 on Wednesday. Rookie Jharel Cotton (3-1, 2.82 ERA with Triple-A Nashville) will make his major league debut for the hometown A’s, opposed by Angel youngster Alex Meyer (0-1, 12.27 ERA) making his second start of the season.