The A’s nearly let an elite performance from Frankie Montas go to waste Thursday night against the Rays.
Montas (ND, 9-2, 2.31 ERA) matched Charlie Morton (ND, 8-1, 2.31 ERA) zero-for-zero and then some, but the Oakland bullpen was unable to protect a tie in the ninth, leaving it to Matt Chapman to overcome a three-run deficit in the eleventh hour for a 5-4 victory.
The Athletics (40-36) held the briefest of leads in the early pitchers duel when Jurickson Profar knocked a solo shot (10) out with one down in the fifth. But Tommy Pham ironed the score back out with his own solo job (11) for the Rays (43-32) just three plate appearances later. Those would be the only runs either starter would allow.
The A’s finished their last road trip in Tampa Bay and saw Morton just 10 days prior to Thursday’s contest. The veteran hurler held them to two hits in seven shutout innings then. Ahead of the rematch, Oakland’s acting-manager Ryan Christenson said he hoped the club could use their recent look at Morton’s stuff to their advantage, but whatever the A’s hitters were able to take away from last Monday’s experience, it didn’t do them much good.
Morton held the Athletics to just one run on four hits over 6-1/3 innings with six punchies, five of them on his devastating curve. Ramón Laureano saw the worst of it, taking a hat trick on Morton’s Uncle Charlie.
But Montas was even tougher on Tampa Bay and he said he enjoyed going head-to-head with a talented arm like Morton. He said:
“I like the competition. I like to pitch against Morton, he’s one of the best right now and I like the challenge. If he’s putting zeroes on the scoreboard I wanna put zeroes, too.”
Montas tossed eight innings of one-run ball allowing just four hits and striking out nine. He notched a pair of strikeouts in three of his eight frames Friday and handed out a hat trick of his own to Rays leadoff man Austin Meadows, who came in hitting .308.
After such a stunning performance it seemed natural to hand the ball to A’s closer Blake Treinen, who brought an 89-percent efficacy rate in 18 save situations this season into the outing. But Treinen came into the ninth with a 1-1 tie in his care and was unable to protect it.
He walked Pham and Brandon Lowe to lead off the inning, and with Avisaíl García batting, the two baserunners pulled off a double steal. Josh Phegley didn’t even have enough lead time to make a throw worthwhile.
García then swatted an RBI single to put the Rays ahead and it continued to go downhill from there. With Ji-Man Choi at the plate García stole second, and Treinen gave up another RBI single to Choi. With that Christenson pulled the plug before Treinen could even record an out.
It would turn out all this was simply a set-up for a glorious, dramatic ending, though, and while Christenson described his first win as an interim-manager as a rollercoaster of emotions, he said he never lost hope:
“To go out there and go down three like that was a kick to the gut to start the ninth inning, but that’s just a sign of what this team’s been showing us the last few years. I’ve seen this group a lot over the last few years, even through the minors, and they never quit, they keep coming back, keep coming at you.”
The A’s illustrated that in the ninth when Marcus Semien came to the plate to face Tampa’s late-innings reliever Diego Castillo (L, 1-5, 3.51 ERA), with two outs after Grossman and Profar both drew walks.
Semien had been riding his first ofer in 17 games going into the at-bat, but he didn’t waste his last chance Thursday. He shot a 1-1 slider up the middle to score Grossman and tack on his 18th-straight game with a hit.
Chapman said he wasn’t surprised to see Semien extend the streak:
“Once I went up on deck, I knew I was getting up [to bat]. Marcus has been carrying our team for I don’t even know how long. He’s been playing unbelievably.”
Chappy took the opportunity to do his part, too, taking a 1-0 slider for a ride to walk it off (17). It would earn him a Gatorade bath at the hands of Matt Olson, but isn’t victory always sweet, packed with electrolytes and a little bit sticky?
The 26-year-old third baseman said he was glad to pick Treinen up, noting how often the favor has been returned when the foot was on the other shoe with regard to the bullpen. He said:
“The bullpen’s picked us up so many times and it’d be very easy for us to give up those runs and just roll over and concede the game, but we were able to keep taking tough at-bats… It just shows that if you want to be a playoff team you got to be able to come back like that.”
Righty Tanner Anderson (0-1, 3.27 ERA) is scheduled to throw in game two of the four-game set with the Rays Friday. Tampa Bay’s starter has yet to be announced for the 7:07 p.m. contest at the Oakland Coliseum.
Athletics bench coach Ryan Christenson filled in for manager Bob Melvin in the series opener Thursday. Christenson said the skipper took the day off for a doctor’s appointment to pinpoint the cause of some neck and back pain he’d been experiencing. Melvin is expected to return for Friday’s matchup with the Rays.