A’s late rally comes up just short against sizzling Nats

The Oakland Athletics scored nine runs in their last three ups. It wasn’t enough, though, as the Washington Nationals stayed ahead by posting eight runs of their own after the sixth just holding on for a 11-10 clincher Sunday.

Following two games showcasing a combined 30 runs, starters Sonny Gray and Tanner Roark disrupted the offensive free-for-all. But it was only a matter of time before two of baseball’s most powerful lineups turned a quiet, quick moving afternoon at the Coliseum into fireworks display featuring five home runs — three by the Nats (35-20) and two by the A’s (24-32).

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

After the two offenses combined for 46 hits including 12 home runs in splitting the first two games of the series, Sunday’s rubber match featured just two hits through the first five innings. In an instant, though, the pitcher’s duel came crashing to a halt.

Gray (ND, 2-2, 4.57 ERA) handed his third and final walk of the game to Matt Wieters leading off the sixth. His next seven pitches yielded a Michael Taylor single and Brian Goodwin sacrifice fly bracketing a Trea Turner two-run triple high off the 15-foot-high wall in right-center.

He snuffed the Nats from there, finishing his 7 innings of work with four hits and striking out six.

Gray said that while he thought he threw the ball well, his three walks were something that costed him in the end:

“With this lineup — that team — if you put guys on base, give guys free passes, then they’re going to do some damage.”

Oakland deployed the cliche, bloop-and-a-blast offense to tie it up in the seventh, getting the former from Jed Lowrie on a bloop single into shallow center. The latter came from Khris Davis, who was slated to take a day off but was a late insertion when Mark Canha was deemed ineligible with a stomach flu.

Khris’ two-run, game-tying home run (17) was the exclamation point on a 3-for-4 contest, including three runs scored. Melvin said he expects the performance, Khris’ first three-hit game since April 15, to turn his clean-up hitter’s season back around.

Stephen Vogt said that changing things up can help a struggling hitter:

“Some times, when you get ambushed like that, it’s not a bad thing. But KD, we’re never worried about him.”

The homer opened the Coliseum flood gate as reliever Ryan Madson couldn’t hold the line in the eighth.

Madson (L, 1-4, 2.82 ERA) was unable to escape the frame, allowing Turner and Harper to reach before Ryan Zimmerman bolstered his MVP resume smoking a 3-1 changeup just inside the same foul pole in left for a three-run jack (16). The slugger finished the afternoon 3-for-5 with three RBIs, and going 6-for-13 in the series.

Vogt said Madson’s struggles weren’t concerning, rather the happenstance of making one mistake to baseball’s best offense:

“He really made one bad pitch. … The changeup is his pitch, so we’d throw it all over again.”

Another Oakland rally forced Roark (W, 6-2, 3.95 ERA), who lasted 7-2/3 innings giving up four runs, from the contest. But, after an RBI double from Chad PinderAdam Lind, normally a designated hitter, brought that threat to an end robbing Lowrie of an RBI single on a diving snag to the threat.

Washington kept the leash off their offense in the ninth, scaring up five more runs to the record of Frankie Montas, who got just three outs. The Nats would need each and every one of those runs, as Koda Glover, who shut the door on the A’s in the eighth, was unable to get a single out in the ninth.

Oakland put its first five hitters on, with four singles and a bases-loaded walk. This rush, though, may have been a situation when a homer, a Matt Joyce grand slam (7), was the undoing. With no one on to apply pressure, reliever Shawn Kelley (S, 4, 6.00 ERA) was able to patiently work past Pinder and Lowrie.

Said Khris:

“It was pretty explosive, really a lot of good ABs after good ABs. That’s what we need: to stay in ballgames.”

Though it came up short, Vogt said the rally said a lot about the fight in heart of his club:

“We never stopped fighting, it was good to see that. Obviously, if you end up with a loss it’s never fun but an 11-10 loss with the tying run at the plate when you’re down seven in the ninth is a lot better than the alternative.”

Manager Bob Melvin said the comeback, albeit just short of enough, showed his team’s “grit”:

“You come back that far you’d like to get one or two more, but it leaves a better feeling from a game that looks like it was a blowout to a game that we were in until the last at-bat.”

On deck

The A’s look to reclaim their winning ways at home when they host the Toronto Blue Jays for three. Sean Manaea (4-3, 3.91 ERA) gets the ball in Monday’s series opener, he is 3-0 with three earned runs allowed over 19 innings in his last three starts. He will be opposed by J.A. Happ (0-3, 4.50), who has scuffled out of the gate following his 20-win 2016 campaign.

Notes

The A’s recalled first baseman Matt Olson, who had been batting .285 with 14 home runs in 47 games with Triple-A Nashville, prior to the game. This will be his second big leagues stint of the season after going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in one previous game with Oakland. He replaces starting pitcher Daniel Mengden, who was 0-1 with a 10.13 ERA in two starts. … Melvin said prior to Sunday’s game that Jesse Hahn (right triceps) would be activated from the 10-day disabled list to make the start Tuesday against the Blue Jays.


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.