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A’s roll past Rangers, stretch lead for Wild Card

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Just as they envisioned at the start of the 2018 season, the Athletics improved their playoff positioning Friday night behind another solid start from Liam Hendriks and a two-homer game by Ramón Laureano.

A rulebook quality start it was not for Hendriks, but the Oakland opener posted a third scoreless first in his three chances spanning the last seven days before giving way to relief starter Chris Bassitt. Bassitt was fiddling with a lead before ever facing a Texas batter, though, following the first leadoff homer of Laureano’s career.

The A’s (85-57) added four more in the second and the Rangers (61-80) never mounted much of a threat, eventually settling on a 8-4 defeat.

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

With his two homers (4,5), Laureano, playing in his 29th big league game, became the first A’s player to post two multi-homer games in his first 30 games — Jose Canseco (42 games) Mark McGwire (43) were the only two to do it in fewer than 50 games previously. By modern comparison, Khris Davis didn’t produce his second two-homer game until game No. 242.

Manager Bob Melvin was a bit timid addressing the term “five-tool player” when discussing the work of his new leadoff man, but is in awe of Laureano’s surprising power:

“That is very impressive, based on the fact that you’ve running McGwires and Cansecos and Reggie Jacksons, and all those guys through this organizations. Means he’s off to a nice start.”

Laureano said his approach on both ling balls was simply to get a good pitch to hit and not miss it. As far as his place in history, the youngster is focused on continuing the playoff charge:

“It’s pretty cool. I just want to focus on moving forward. All the accolades, I’m just going to reflect on it in the offseason. I just want to keep moving forward.”

Melvin said that the “opener” is something the A’s now “have in (their) bag” after a second successful deployment as they close in on a first playoff berth in four years.

Hendriks had done his job in each of his first two opener starts, but neither had resulted in Oakland wins. The first, last Saturday, saw Hendriks give up two runs in the second and take the loss. The second, Tuesday, ended with the late-inning relievers choking up an early lead.

Since the first failed attempt with the opener, Melvin has deviated from his over-aggression. And try as they might, Fernando Rodney and Jeurys Familia couldn’t surrender the Oakland lead late.

Rodney allowed three hits, one walk and one run in 2/3 of an inning and has now been tagged with eight hits, three walks and four runs in his last three appearances (2-2/3 innings). Familia has been better, but only slightly, yielding two hits, one walk and one run in one inning Friday night pushing his total to three hits, five walks and one run in his last three outings (2-2/3 innings).

Melvin pointed to the fact that both have limited the damage visible on the scoreboard through their tough goings, saying that there is a different level of intensity for established closers when entering games in the middle innings with big leads:

“They’ve pitched a lot — what, they each give up a run. When you’re winning games and we’re talking about guys giving up a run, struggling, that means we’re doing pretty good.”

But an 8-2 advantage proved too much for a weary Texas offense to overcome.

The big lead sprouted quickly following Hendriks’ ability to work around a leadoff walk to post a zero in the first.

Texas starter Yovani Gallardo (L, 8-4, 6.22 ERA) tried to tie up the hands of Laureano with a 2-1 91-mph fastball on the inside, but it leaked out just enough for the rookie center fielder to get the barrel to it and blast it into the second section of seating in the left-field bleachers. Leading off a game for the second time in his career, the 24-year-old logged leadoff homer No. 1.

But Laureano’s night was far from over.

As the fifth of eight consecutive A’s to reach base in the second, Laureano drew a walk. Then, following a fourth-inning strikeout, he rifled a 92-mph heater on the outside corner down the right field line and high off the foul pole for his second homer triggering a three-run frame.

Since being called up on Aug. 3, Laureano is batting .309 (25-for-81) with a .387 on-base percentage, 13 RBIs and 16 runs scored.

Melvin credited the many men who have been penciled in at the top of his lineup prior to Laureano, naming Nick Martini as a guy he really likes in the spot. But, as far as Laureano is concerned:

“For the couple games that we’ve put him in there, he’s taken it to another level. … He’s on a roll right now.”

Texas had a chance to answer Laureano’s first homer when Bassitt struggled out of the gate.

After walking to lead off the second and getting to third with Joey Gallo at second with one out, however, Adrián Beltré ended the threat with an ill-advised challenge at home on a ball effectively blocked by Jonathan Lucroy. The Oakland backstop had only feet to cover before plucking the ball from the dirt near the left-handed batter’s box and flipping to Bassitt for the putout.

Bassitt, like Daniel Mengden who made the A’s two relief starts prior to him this week, said there is some growing pains that come with the inability to go about the normal warm-up process. He talked to Despite discussing the differences with Mengden before the game, the first was a struggle. Once he had a healthy lead, following Oakland’s four-run fourth however, the approach got simple:

“The only way they really get back in the game is if I walk guys, I’m not going to walk a guy.”

He didn’t walk another batter after the second, though he did allow a single and Gallo two-run bomb (35) in the fourth. Following the fourth, Bassitt handed the reigns to Yusmeiro Petit (W, 7-3, 3.18 ERA) who was responsible for two of the A’s three perfect innings — Bassitt’s third being the other.

Coupled with the Mariners loss, Oakland’s win whittles its magic number to seal a playoff berth to 15 with 20 games left.

On Deck

Edwin Jackson (5-3, 2.91 ERA) looks to lock down a series victory in game two of the three-game set Saturday afternoon. The A’s are unbeaten in their last 12 home series (10-0-2), a thirteenth would set a new Oakland franchise single-season record. Yohander Méndez (1-1, 5.59 ERA) will stand in their way. The southpaw worked six scoreless, allowing three hits, against the Twins his last time out.

Notes

Chris Bassitt was recalled from Triple-A Nashville prior to Friday’s game. He was optioned on Aug. 26 after a start in which he allowed four hits and three walks while holding the Twins to one run in 4-2/3 innings. Friday marked Bassitt’s first relief appearance in the big leagues since May 9, 2015. … With their 6-3 win in Boston, the Astros remain 3-1/2 games ahead of the A’s in the American League West race. The Yankees, who beat the Mariners in Seattle, maintain their 3-1/2-game advantage over the A’s for the AL’s first Wild Card spot. … Marcus Semien homered in the second pushing his season total to 12.


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.

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