Canha lifts A’s past Red Sox with walk-off winner

It took preserving a piece of history, enduring an awe-inspiring catch, and surviving 10 frames, but the Oakland Athletics celebrated a walk-off homer from Mark Canha to hand the Boston Red Sox a second straight loss Friday night.

The A’s (19-23) moved to 13-8 at the friendly confines of the Oakland Coliseum with their fourth walk-off win — each coming in the past two weeks — and second of Canha’s career — first coming on a home run.

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

Normally, when a hitter steps to the plate, particularly in the the situation Canha found himself in the tenth, they are looking for a certain pitch. But that was not the approach this night’s hero took:

“Just (trying to) get something that looks good to hit. I was more kind of focused on my rhythm, and being slow and seeing the ball well. I couldn’t even tell you what pitch it was unless I saw the replay.”

Canha finished the bottom of the ninth standing in the on-deck circle, ready to celebrate a walk-off homer from Ryon Healy. But a leaping catch above the wall from Boston center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. put the celebration on hold.

Said Canha:

“You never expect a guy to jump up and make an amazing play like that. But when it happened, I was like, ‘oh yeah, it’s Jackie Bradley out there.'”

Healy offered his own verbal tip of the cap to Bradley, saying that he wasn’t totally surprised by the catch:

“He’s a great center fielder. I don’t know if surprised is the right word, but it’s not something I want to see ever again.”

Before experiencing the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, the Red Sox (21-20) sent their ace  out to start the tilt. And Chris Sale came into the game with his eyes affixed on history — history he already owned a piece of.

Having struck out 10 or more batters in seven consecutive games, Sale  (ND, 4-2, 2.19 ERA) was one such performance short of tying his own stretch in 2005, when he was a member of the Chicago White Sox. Also with eight consecutive 10-plus strikeout starts, in 1999, was then-Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez.

What the current Boston ace was offering early, the A’s weren’t buying. Following a fanning of Rajai Davis to start the game, Sale went without a strikeout until after a lead-off double from in the third. But three straight strikeouts, including one of Rajai to end the third, put the towering lefty right back on pace.

Striking out four of the last five batters he faced, Sale finished 7 innings of seven-hit, two-run work with his history-matching 10 whiffs.

Healy said that his team put together a solid plan of attack and quality fight:

“It was kind of hit-or-miss. I think, all-in-all we had a pretty good approach — some good swings, good at-bats. … (He’s a) great pitcher, obviously the elite of the elite, but we did a great job battling him all night — everyone.

As overpowering as Sale was, Kendall Graveman matched him every step of the way. Aided by a pair of double plays, the Oakland sinker-baller tossed his own 6 innings of two-run ball, even mixing in five strikeouts of his own.

Using 11 outs produced by ground balls — including the two double-play balls — Graveman (ND, 2-2, 3.83 ERA) worked around six hits and three walks allowed, limiting to the damage to one monster bash by a well-known A’s killer.

Mitch Moreland, who homered Thursday night, clobbered a 3-2 cutter on the hands in the fourth for another, his 18th in 79 career games against the A’s — 13th in 44 games at the Oakland Coliseum and fourth this season. And Moreland was looming an inning later with a potential shot at busting the game wide open.

Instead, third baseman Trevor Plouffe, ranging to his right for a back-hand pick-up before fading into foul territory with a side-armed sling, got Hanley Ramirez on a Healy short-hop scoop at first, leaving Moreland in the on-deck circle and the bases loaded to end the fifth.

The starter said that while Canha is the brightest star of this win, Plouffe’s play cannot go unnoticed:

“To win games in this league, we’ve got to play defense like that. Plouffe made a great play … and then Healy did a good job of digging him out over there.”

And like winning teams tend to do, the A’s capitalized on the good fortune putting a tally on Boston’s starter in the bottom of the fifth.

Canha, who came in slashing .412/.444/.706 since being recalled on May 9, followed a Healy single with a bloop down the line that evaded right fielder Mookie Betts into the corner for an RBI triple. The Oakland offense added another in the sixth, but left that lead 90 feet from home.

The walk-off hero finished 3-for-4, and a single shy of the cycle. Manager Bob Melvin joked:

“He’s not much for singles, he likes extra-base hits obviously. … To get us to that point, probably the biggest hit of the game was that triple off Sale.”

A single from Jed Lowrie moved Rajai, who singled to lead off the sixth, to second with one out. Khris Davis got a first-pitch changeup thigh-high and down the middle and crushed it, but this one was more a liner than the fly balls that have yielded his 12 homers this season, and it crashed off the wall he has so often cleared.

The drive chased Rajai home, but left Lowrie at third where Sale kept him with strikeouts of Plouffe and Healy.

From there, the bullpen was once again activated. And once again, it delivered. With three more zeroes the Oakland bullpen has now tossed 21 consecutive scoreless frames at home, dating back to May 6. Ryan Dull (W, 2-2, 6.32 ERA) escaping a one-out single in the top of the tenth was enough to set up the Canha home run (2) handing Heath Hembree (L, 0-2, 4.29) a loss after facing just one batter.

The skipper said this one had the feeling of a game that would come down to one swing:

“Once you get a couple of those — one or two of those — now you get to the ninth inning inning in a tied game, everyone has that feeling, it’s happened multiple times. … You don’t necessarily think it’s going to be a home run all the time, but we do have some guys with power.”

On deck

Sean Manaea (1-3, 5.52 ERA) faces Drew Pomeranz (3-3, 5.29 ERA) looking to clinch a series victory Saturday afternoon. The “Throwin’ Samoan” does not have good career numbers against the Red Sox, but his 27.00 ERA stems from a single start, the worst of his young career coming last May in Boston.

Notes

With a one-out single in the second, Trevor Plouffe extended his hitting streak to 10 games. … Mark Canha’s only previous walk-off hit came on a tenth-inning double against Cleveland on August 2, 2015. … Catcher Josh Phegley threw out Mookie Betts on a stolen base attempt in the seventh inning. It was the third consecutive base stealer caught by the A’s back-up catcher. He has now thrown out four of nine attempted base stealers this season.


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s sports director and Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.