Huge fifth, stellar Graveman carry A’s to series-splitting win

Matt Chapman‘s fourth-inning screamer tucked just inside the left-field foul pole for a three-run homer. It capped a five-run fourth, giving Oakland a lead it would never relinquish.

An early 2-0 deficit wasn’t much to overcome, but one day after climbing the hill never to crest it, the blast was just what the Athletics (52-66) needed, putting the finishing touches on Oakland’s largest inning since June 22 (6).

Kendall Graveman made the big frame stand up, tossing his best game since May, earning his first win since early-April, to carry his club in a 9-3 answer-back thumping of the Baltimore Orioles (58-60) to earn a 2-2 four-game split Sunday.

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

In his third start since returning from the disabled list on Aug. 3, Graveman (W, 3-3, 4.70 ERA) said he finally feels right, able to pound the knee-high location with his sinker:

“I think I’m finally getting back on track. I think the foundation has always been there, repeat-ability to be able to make a pitch wasn’t and (today) it kinda showed up there after the first and second inning.”

Graveman got the start, tasked with slowing a powder keg Oriole offense that had scored 23 runs in the first three games of the series. It a appeared a task too tall. Baltimore scored single runs in the first and second on five hits, and had picked up seven hits before an out was recorded in the third.

Less than 24 hours after being forced to pull his starter one out into the game, manger Bob Melvin said he had no choice but to fear the worst:

“Early on, you’re thinking — the way things have been going, you can’t help but think ‘do we have to get somebody up (in the bullpen) here pretty soon.’ Seven hits real early.”

Then:

“After that, he was like we’re used to seeing him. … All of a sudden, the ball was a little more at the knee, it had more movement, it was in just enough. … It was good to see.”

Graveman found his groove after allowing a pair of singles to start the third. Escaping that jam, stranding both, the Oakland starter retired the next nine he faced. But not before he got a little help from the defense to escape the second.

Charging a topper high off the plate, first baseman Matt Olson picked the ball just to the fair side of the base line before firing to second to turn an unconventional double while the Orioles argued rather than running. Said Olson:

“I kinda had to make my mind up. I couldn’t see if Davis was running hard to second or not, but just based off how Smith was kinda standing around in the box, I took a shot hoping that Davis was doing the same.”

That three-inning silencing was more than enough for the Oakland bats to find a chink in the armor of Baltimore starter Jeremy Hellickson.

Hellickson (L, 7-7, 4.70 ERA) entered the game having allowed three runs in two starts since being acquired by the Orioles on July 28. And he had surrendered just an infield single entering through 3. Marcus Semien led off the fourth with a looping liner over the head of first baseman Chris Davis, though, and everything came crashing down on the Baltimore hurler.

The A’s tallied their first run, sneaking another knock past Davis. Ryon Healy squirted a squibber down the first base line, beating the Baltimore shift for a dribbling double. Then, perhaps looking to counter his own near-misses, Davis fielded a Olson grounder retreating to his back foot, and fired home attempting to get the A’s Khris Davis instead of taking the easy second out at first. He got neither, allowing the tying run to cross and setting the table for Chapman’s blast (8).

Said Melvin:

“To put together an at-bat like that, which is, at the time, the key at-bat of the game — gives us a little distance and gives us a lead — that was a big at-bat for him.”

Matt Joyce helped Oakland continue to pile on, stifling the Orioles’ hopes. First, with his legs, doubling off the wall in left-center and stole third easily before scampering home on a shallow sacrifice fly from Semien. Then, with his power, hammering a two-run homer (16) in the seventh.

Manny Machado did his best to keep the Baltimore bats alive, going 3-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored.

Graveman got through 7 complete, holding the Orioles to two runs, scattering eight hits (one after the third) and one walk while striking out eight. He made sure to send compliments in the direction of rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell, who was catching the the starter for just the third time — seven earned runs allowed in 4 previous innings (15.75 ERA):

“I think that’s the best I’ve pitched in awhile. To be able to locate like I did … and being able to talk to Bruce in between innings, I think we took a big step today, as far as how we’re going to manage a game.”

On deck

Oakland bids farewell to the Orioles, welcoming the slumping Royals (59-58) who remain in the thick of the playoff hunt despite having lost 11 of their last 14 games. Jharel Cotton (5-9, 5.72 ERA) gets the ball in game one. The rookie enjoyed his best start of the season in his one previous start against Kansas City, tossing 7 scoreless with two hits on April 10. He will face fellow-rookie Jakob Junis (4-2, 4.70 ERA).

Notes

Jake Smolinski (right shoulder surgery) made his season debut Saturday night, going 0-for-2 with a walk, hit by pitch and run scored as the designated hitter for Single-A Stockton. … The A’s moved to 23-22 in day games — 29-44 in night games — and have scored 229 runs in 45 (5.01 per game) games under the sun — 290 runs in 73 (3.97 per game) in night games. … Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman (1-7, 7.94 ERA) pitched came on in relief with one out in the seventh marking the first relief appearance of his career. He has made 194 starts in his nine-year career. … Matt Olson homered (7) in the eighth giving him a blast in each of the past three games. He is the fourth Athletic to do so this season — Khris Davis, Ryon Healy, Matt Chapman.


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.