A’s conjure late magic, deliver Melvin win No. 1,000

Starter Chris Smith entered in search of his first major league win in nine seasons, and manager Bob Melvin came in one win shy of 1,000 in his managerial career.

On a day when Bay Area legend Bill King was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, the table was set for Oakland magic.

Despite taking an early lead, the Athletics (45-59) would need every bit of that magic to bury the postseason hopeful Minnesota Twins (50-52), and they got it from Rajai Davis, whose two-run walk-off home run (4) put the finishing touches on the comeback triumph.

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

Rajai, who said the team understood the gravity of the situation and had asserted that the ball used to make the final out in a win would need to be kept track of, said he was glad the homer sailed over the center field wall where it would be easily uncovered:

“I’m glad that we get to keep the ball for him. I think that it’s a ball that they can find, and frame it real nice for him so he can set it up on his wall.”

Though Melvin, who became the 64th manager to claim 1,000 career major league wins, did reach his momentous mark, the starter’s search for his first win since 2008 continues. Smith (ND, 0-1, 4.13 ERA) lasted just 5 innings — the shortest of his four starts this season — surrendering seven hits and four runs — the most he has allowed since Aug. 9, 2016, matching his career-high.

He needed 97 pitches to make it that far, walking three and striking out four. He said:

“I didn’t do my job tonight, but the bullpen did. They kept us in the game until the moment Rajai hit that home run.”

Things could have been much worse for the 34-year-old journeyman. After dancing around a leadoff single in the first, Smith allowed the first five batters in the second to reach.  But, in striking out Max Kepler and Miguel Sano, he limited the damage to two runs — on the verge of an early departure.

Smith admitted that the positives in such an outing are few and far between, but said that his ability to “put a band aide” on the second inning is something that he can use to build confidence:

“That second inning was like duct tape and zip ties — I need everything I can to get out of that inning. That’s the way it works some times.”

Added Melvin:

“He battled again. … The guy has got a lot of mettle, and a lot of grit. He wasn’t on the winning side of it, unfortunately.”

In his first three starts, Smith posted quality starts, lasting 6 or more innings and allowing three or fewer runs in each. Previously, it had been offensive shortcomings and a blown save that robbed him of the elusive win. Though there were only two runs offered in his support while he was part of the mix, Saturday brought Smith rock-solid relief and late offense.

Ryan Dull, Santiago Casilla, Josh Smith and Daniel Coulombe (W, 2-1, 2.50 ERA) fired one scoreless inning apiece, combining to strikeout six while allowing five base runners — three hits and two walks. The bullpen work allotted the Oakland offense a chance to erase a 4-2 deficit, engorged by a Sano two-run homer (24) in the fifth.

Of his club, which has tied the Oakland franchise record with six walk-off home runs (2004, 2012), the skipper said battling back has becomd a calling card:

“Even in these games we’ve been losing here recently, we’ve been in every game. … I really commend these guys for fighting like they have every day.”

That fight began in fifth when Ryon Healy, who entered batting .183 in July, sent a bloop down the right field line. The big designated hitter hustled out of the box, turning a single into a double then scoring on a bloop single from Yonder Alonso — who came into the contest with a .208 average in July.

Healy finished 2-for-4 with an RBI — coming on a first-inning double — and a run scored.

The fight continued with the latest of what has become a sudden onrush of haymakers from rookie slugger Matt Chapman, who crushed a 431-foot solo bomb (6) to left in the eighth, making it a one-run game.

While Rajai was quick to point to Chapman’s long homer and a walk drawn by pinch-hitter Adam Rosales leading off the ninth, they were mere body blows setting up the knock-out rocket off the bat of the suddenly scorching center fielder.

After entering July barely above the Mendoza Line — .200 — Rajai has batted .300 since July 5, raising his season average from .206 to .232. The exclamation point on that run had been a 3-for-4 performance heading into the ninth, but in the most dramatic of fashion the 12-year veteran added a stamp to his best night of the season with a line-drive laser just left of straight-away center field off of reliever Taylor Rogers (L, 5-3, 3.40 ERA). Said Rajai:

“It’s always nice when those hits fall early, and you just capitalize on a day like this.”

He added:

“This team is a resilient team that never quits, fights to the last out, especially when we’re at home and that’s what we did tonight.”

On deck

Jharel Cotton (5-8, 5.17 ERA) will make his return from the disabled list Sunday, when he will get the starting assignment opposite Bartolo Colon (2-9, 8.00 ERA). Cotton has been out with a blister since July 3.

Notes

Sonny Gray‘s next start  has been moved from Sunday to Monday. Gray (6-5, 3.43 ERA) is at the center of the A’s trade rumors, meaning the adjustment could be at the request of the team looking to acquire him — New York Yankees are the top suitors — making him available to pitch immediately upon his arrival. … Kendall Graveman (right shoulder) lasted 4-2/3 innings, giving up four hits and one run on an 81-pitch rehab start with Triple-A Nashville. He struck out five and walked two. Graveman (2-2, 3.83 ERA) has not pitched since May 19, and is expected to return in early-August. … Bob Melvin said he expects Chad Pinder (left hamstring) to be activated and eligible prior to Monday’s game with the San Francisco Giants. Pinder (.234/.289/.490) has not played in the big leagues since June 23.


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.