With everything stacked against him, facing baseball’s best offense in a Red Sox club that has exacted more punishment on him than any other, Sean Manaea screamed to the league that his dynamite start to 2018 is for real.
He needed just 108 pitches and allowed three base runners — two walks and an error. He did not need the assistance of a signature miraculous defensive play and struck out a season-best 10 batters in tossing the first A’s no-hitter since 2010 to beat Boston (17-3) 3-0 Saturday night at the Oakland Coliseum.
Catcher Jonathan Lucroy, a veteran and someone who has worked with several All-Star starters, said the performance was transcendent:
“I’ve caught a lot a great pitchers in this game. I have eight years in now — in the league — and that was the most well-pitched, well-executed game I’ve ever had behind the plate.”
So much is said about the emotional state of a hurler in the midst of a magical run like the one Manaea (W, 3-2, 1.23 ERA) went on: Is he calm and relaxed? Is he nervous and giddy? Is he going about business as usual?
Normally, he is left alone to ponder his own existence, unbothered by anyone save for perhaps the catcher in the dugout. So, what was the quirky lefty doing between stints of domination on the mound? Apparently, he was letting the gravity of the situation completely pass him by:
“Until the eighth and ninth, I thought is was a one-hitter. … I looked up in the eighth and saw that there was still zero (in the hit column) and was like, ‘whoa, that’s weird.'”
Marcus Semien, the night’s top offensive performer going 2-for-3 with a home run, a stolen base and three runs scored, all against Red Sox starter Chris Sale (L, 1-1, 1.86 ERA), said it is hard to believe that a guy can be so locked in he doesn’t realize he is in the middle of a historic performance. Adding, perhaps that helped:
“Just how the crowd reacted, you would think that he would know what was going on. If he didn’t, he didn’t. Maybe that kept him locked in.”
After walking the evening’s first hitter Mookie Betts, the hottest hitter in the league not named Jed Lowrie, the 6-foot-5 lefty, as Semien said, locked in, retiring the next 14 batters, seven of which going down on strikes.
That streak came to an end with two down in the fifth, when Semien ranged from his shortstop position into shallow center chasing a Sandy León bloop. He was able to get under the popup, but had it clang off his glove into a patch of light-green grass in the column-patterned outfield.
After a short delay, it was officially scored an error, Semien’s third this season, rather than what would have been León’s fourth hit. Semien joked:
“Usually, you don’t want to make errors but in that situation, yeah, I’ll take the error.”
Manaea, who has refocused his mental toughness this season, bailed out his shortstop with a strikeout of Jackie Bradley Jr., who would finish the night 0-for-3 with three strikeouts.
His level of *locked in* once again showed up in the seventh, when he called off defensive stalwart Matt Chapman on an Eduardo Núñez popup, hauling it in himself to the right of and a bit behind the pitching mound. The putout brought the sixth to an end, but it was the way the fifth ended that may have had some of the Red Sox hot under the collar.
With one of his team’s many feeble swings of the night, Andrew Benintendi sent a weak roller up the first base line about eight feet into fair territory. The window to make a flip to Manaea quickly closed and Matt Olson chose instead to make a one-motion scoop and dive at the Boston left fielder. He drew no contact and Benintendi was ruled safe, breaking up the no-no.
But manager Bob Melvin quickly emerged from the third base dugout, not to check on his slugging first baseman, who was sprawled out in four territory appearing to be suffering some discomfort in his midsection. Instead, Melvin was out to consult with home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt.
Following the discussion, and another of about two minutes between all four umps near the mound, Benintendi was ruled to have evaded the tag by leaving the base path and was called out.
— Ben Ross (@BenRossSports) April 22, 2018
Lucroy saw the play unfold from the plate and was convinced of the out. When he turned to the dugout to stake his claim, Melvin was already heading in his direction. Said the skipper:
“He started out on the grass and ended up on the grass on the other side. We have a 6-foot-6-inch first baseman who was full-out. For me, three feet is kinda what you’re talking about, and once you get out of the dirt area and on to the grass, for me, he was out of the base line.”
Manaea didn’t have a chance to allow his emotions to surge coming off the mound to end the sixth or seventh, something he has done this season more than ever before, but he did coming off the mound following Bradley’s third strikeout to end the eighth. Bounding off the bump following the whiff, Manaea let out a roar and pounded his left fist into the palm of blonde leather glove.
Heading to the hill in the ninth, and now realizing the situation while being egged on by 25,746 fanatical fans in both green and red, the 26-year-old had to take a little emotional inventory:
“Coming out for the ninth, my heart was beating out of my chest. I tried to do everything I could to stay calm.”
But a two-out walk of Benintendi brought Hanley Ramírez to the dish. Prior to Saturday, Ramírez had been 3-for-6 with two homers against the Oakland starter. Melvin, a stickler for baseball superstitions going so far as to avoid eye contact with his starter after the sixth, broke from one, getting closer Blake Treinen up in the bullpen.
“You’re try to sit in the same seat … superstitions run rampant in baseball, and in a game like that, with a no-hitter, it’s even more so. … I’m trying as long as I can not to get the bullpen up, just superstition-wise.”
Lucroy, who said he had seen many no-hit threats die with many late-inning bloops and broken-bat base hits, went out to talk to his hurler. But it was a quick trip:
“First thing he said, before I said anything, he said, ‘I’m good.’ I said, ‘alright.’ Turned right back around, went right back behind the plate, we threw two more changeups, got a rollover, see ya’ later.”
Ramírez’s rollover — which turned out to be the highest exit velocity of any Red Sox contact — hopped straight to Semien, who flipped to Lowrie at second to trigger mass hysteria.
After the game, Manaea credited this highest level of success to a mental adjustment he has made:
“First couple years, I wasn’t really doing much to prepare myself. I was just going out there and hoping I would throw a good game. … That’s just not the mindset that I want to have if I’m going to go where I want to go.”
Lucroy, quite the contrary, has built a reputation for preparation. But, he said, it takes execution from his pitcher. Manaea did so, even if he didn’t realize as it was going on, or after:
“It’s unbelievable. I still can’t believe it’s real.”
Melvin will send Daniel Mengden (2-2, 4.50 ERA) to the mound Sunday in search of a series victory. He will have not only be following a tough act, he will also be facing a tough competitor in David Price (2-1, 2.25 ERA), who brings with him a 3.02 ERA in seven career starts in Oakland.
A’s 2016 first-round draft pick Daulton Jefferies tweeted Saturday that both he and James Kaprielian, acquired by Oakland in the 2017 trade that sent Sonny Gray to the Yankees, faced hitters, adding “getting closer and closer.” Both recovering from Tommy John surgery, Jefferies has not appeared in a game since April 13, 2017 (High-A Stockton) while Kaprielian last appearance came on Nov. 4, 2016 (Arizona Fall League). … After three scoreless innings in his A’s debut Friday night, Josh Lucas was optioned to Triple-A Nashville Saturday to clear roster space for Yusmeiro Petit, who returned from the Venezuela and the family medical emergency list. … Josh Phegley (fractured fingers) was reinstated from the 10-day disabled list Saturday and optioned to the Nashville Sounds.