The Bay Area was graced with beautiful weather Sunday. High-60’s and sunny, a light breeze with no humidity, and not a solitary cloud in the sky. Perfect for a hike or family barbecue.
Routine fly balls found their way to the earth twice, once with a detour off the head of an Oakland outfielder. Countless others were brought in only after hard-fought battles with the tough East Bay sky. Starters Sean Manaea and Brad Keller (ND, 1-2, 2.31 ERA) limited the damage, though, keeping the ball on the ground.
For those defensive failings, on balls in the air, though, the A’s (34-32) got a game-saving defensive play from Marcus Semien — on a ground ball — that set Matt Chapman up for an eight-inning game-winning homer (10) and hand the Royals (22-44) a 3-2 loss.
With Manaea (ND, 5-6, 3.49 ERA) freshly lifted, with one down and the speedy Whit Merrifield at third, Salvador Pérez got enough wood on a 99-mph sinker from closer Blake Treinen (W, 3-1, 0.87 ERA) sending a grounder into the gap between Chapman and Semien.
But what appeared to be a go-ahead single off the bat was snagged on a quick dive by Semien, who popped to one knee and fired to catcher Jonathan Lucroy nailing Merrifield at the plate.
Manager Bob Melvin called the play the biggest momentum shift in a game full of them:
“That’s a bout as good a play as I’ve seen him make since he’s been here. To dive like that, get up and have to throw it off-balance like that on the money, no legs underneath him — game-winner.”
Semien said he was ready, knowing that with Treinen’s high-powered sinker a hard-hit grounder was likely:
“That’s a play you need to make in that situation. Just like when you’re at the play, you want to get the job done, it’s the same thing.”
One batter into the bottom half of the same eighth inning, Chapman got the job done with the bat, sending a screaming liner over the wall in left off reliever Jason Adam (L, 0-1, 4.40 ERA):
“That’s as close as guys can get of Treinen for the most part, with the stuff he has, so I think that kinda took the wind out of their sail. … We’re just trying to scratch and claw to give him a run. I was leading the inning off just trying to get on base, luckily I was able to take care of it.”
It has of late been a battle for Manaea, the American League Pitcher of the Month in April. Even in his last start — the best he has posted since the calendar flipped to May (5-1/3 innings, two runs) — he issued walks to the game’s first two hitters. So a clean first was the likely goal.
But he didn’t get it.
Dustin Fowler, though, lost it off the bat in the clear, cloudless sky. Right fielder Stephen Piscotty‘s sprinting attempt at an assist failed when he got there in time, only to have the floating popup glance off the outside of his glove and carom off the A’s logo on the front of his cap.
— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) June 10, 2018
Manaea got through the mess, recording his first of six strikeouts before getting a fly ball caught by Piscotty in right.
Kansas City had its own issues with the high sky in the second, but Gold Glove shortstop Alcides Escobar was able to recover to haul in a Fowler pop up while stumbling to the ground in shallow left. Two had already scored, on RBIs from Piscotty and Lucroy, but Escobar’s ability to do what Piscotty couldn’t before him kept the A’s from touching the board further.
The Oakland rally stayed alive with a walk of Semien, but Khris Davis went down on strikes, the second of his four strikeouts, to strand the bases loaded. In total, the A’s would leave eight on base going 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
Kansas City got another assist in the third, this time making it hurt.
Another routine fly ball, this one to left, had Mark Canha circling his expected catch zone like a puppy looking for a good spot to squat. But he didn’t see the ball until it bounced off the grass. With a Manaea passed ball and a solo blast (11) from Pérez, both coming with two down, the Royals knotted things up at two.
From there, Manaea locked in, surrendering just two hits after the third before he was lifted with one down in the eighth, the deepest he had gone into a start since his no-hitter on April 21, on just 90 pitches — 69 for strikes.
Melvin said that while velocity isn’t the most important thing when it comes to his ace it was nice to see higher speed ratings on all of his pitches.
“Kept his composure really well. He didn’t any of that get to him and he just kept plugging away … he was lights out the rest of the game.”
Manaea, who said he didn’t deviate from the gameplan after seeing two very catchable fly balls become hits, said the start is one he thinks can begin another roll:
“There’s definitely a lot of positive that a am going to take away from today. Just gotta keep building off those and continue it into the next start.”
Treinen worked around a leadoff double to seal the win, needing Lucroy to run down a foul popup — against all odds set by the play of both teams on balls in the air — to record the 27th out.
The A’s take a day off Monday before welcoming the reigning World Series Champion Houston Astros (42-25) to Oakland for a three-game set. Houston has claimed five wins in six previous meetings with the A’s, including all three in Oakland (May 7-9). Houston native Daniel Mengden (6-5, 3.45 ERA) will get the first crack at the Astros, who drafted him in the fourth round in 2014. Mengden is 0-4 with a 6.23 ERA in six career starts against his hometown club. He will face Lance McCullers Jr. (7-3, 3.94 ERA) who has lost his last two road starts.
Trevor Cahill, who was unable to make his scheduled start Saturday due to an Achilles injury, is feeling better Sunday, manager Bob Melvin said. The A’s are hopeful Cahill (1-2, 2.77 ERA) will be available for his next start, but if he isn’t Chris Bassitt, who took a loss in Cahill’s place Saturday despite tossing seven one-run innings, will get the nod. … Bassitt (0-1, 1.29 ERA) was optioned to Triple-A Nashville Sunday following his emergency spot-start the day prior, outfielder Jake Smolinski was called up to fill the roster vacancy. Smolinski (.118/.167/.206), who broke Spring Training with the A’s, recorded just four hits, including a double and a triple, in 34 at-bats during a 16-game stint with Oakland earlier this season. … Reliever Ryan Buchter (left shoulder strain) threw 20 pitches to Stockton Ports hitters earlier this week and will begin a rehab assignment with Advanced-A Stockton in the coming days, according to Melvin who added that the lefty would need to advance his rehab assignment through Triple-A Nashville before being activated off the 10-day disabled list. … Like Buchter, Andrew Triggs (right triceps strain) will begin his own rehab assignment soon, Melvin said.