It’s safe to say Mike Fiers (ND, 7-3, 4.20 ERA) wasn’t at his sharpest in Saturday’s matinee, but the veteran righty muddled his way through and did a sterling job putting up zeroes through five of six innings pitched against the Rays.
And while Fiers limited the Rays bats, Matt Chapman led the A’s offense to victory, twice reclaiming the lead for Oakland in their 4-2 win over Tampa Bay.
Fiers allowed three walks, plunked three Rays and unloosed a wild pitch in the penultimate contest of the four-game set. But when things got hairy he kept Tampa from doing damage with a gutty six-inning performance.
The A’s scored early Saturday afternoon against Tampa Bay’s Yonny Chirinos (ND, 7-3, 3.00 ERA). After a three-up-three-down first, Khris Davis led off the second with a smash grounder to second for a single. Ramón Laureano and Robbie Grossman each followed suit with singles to left and the A’s got on the board first, 1-0. But Chirinos stifled what could have been quite a fruitful inning for Oakland, coaxing a pop up and a double play and stranding a pair.
Fiers couldn’t maintain the lead, though. He ended up performing something of a Houdini in the third when he opened the inning allowing a leadoff line drive down the left field line on the first pitch to Mike Zunino.
A’s manager Bob Melvin said Oakland believed the ball was foul, but Chapman said he wasn’t sure:
“I was looking at the ball, so it’s hard for me to judge if it was fair or foul because I was trying to just see if I could make that play. Maybe I’m biased–I thought it was foul–but I think that’s just me subconsciously wanting it to be foul. It was pretty close, one of those plays where it could go either way.”
Third base umpire Mark Wegner ruled the ball fair and Zunino pulled up safe at second. Fiers then proceeded to walk the bases loaded. Fiers said:
“My command wasn’t all the way there…I don’t know how I got out of bases loaded, no outs and they got [only] one run, I don’t know– I blacked out. I just started throwing whatever [I could]. I just tried to make some pitches and get out of that inning.”
With the bases stacked, all Ji-Man Choi mustered after a nine-pitch battle was a sac fly to deep right to tie it up, 1-1.
Chapman said he’s not surprised team’s are afraid to run on Laureano’s arm. He said:
“I don’t blame them. It’s hard to test him because he seems time and time again to just make those throws. I’m almost used to it now.”
Fiers then hit his third batsman of the afternoon on a first pitch to Avisaíl García, re-loading the bases. But he induced a third fly-out to end the inning, and it would be the only run he allowed.
Melvin said that inning was pivotal and credited both Laureano and Fiers with keeping Oakland in the game. He said:
“That’s a big run at that point in the game, and then Mike pitches out of it, which was huge. Now all of a sudden there’s a momentum swing, when it looked like we were in a little bit of trouble there.”
Fiers said escaping the third offered him something of a do-over. He said:
“Once I got out of that it felt kind of like a new game. I got another chance to settle down and focus and make good pitches.”
Chapman wrested the lead back for Oakland with a two-out, solo big fly (18) that traveled 409 feet out into the right-centerfield bleachers in the home-half of the third, putting the A’s ahead 2-1.
Melvin said he almost benched Chappy Saturday, but the 26-year-old refused:
“He’s played quite a bit and plays at a pretty good pace. But he came in this morning and said he didn’t want anything to do with [a day off], we got two days before an off day and he [said he was] going to play. Thank goodness he did because he had a heck of a game.”
Fiers was at 93 pitches after heavy workload in the sixth. He allowed a two-out single and walk before whiffing Zunino to put up a final zero, but after that, Melvin charged lefty-reliever Ryan Buchter with protecting the lead.
Buchter got two quick outs to open up the seventh before losing an eight-pitch battle with Choi, ultimately leaving a fastball over the plate that Choi sent over the left-centerfield wall for a round-tripper (9), tying it up, 2-2.
Buchter then left another fastball over the plate to Meadows that the Rays right fielder lined to right for what was almost an inside the park home run. Meadows put the brakes on between third and home plate, though, and scurried back, and Melvin had seen enough from Buchter.
Yusmeiro Petit (W, 2-1, 2.79 ERA) took the ball and got Oakland out of the jam by striking García out, maintaining the tie so the A’s offense could go to work.
Melvin said Petit has been a pillar for the A’s bullpen in 2019:
“He’s kind of an unsung bullpen hero and we give him some really tough assignments. A lot of times we bring him in with guys onbase and some traffic out there and nowhere to go, and he doesn’t have a 98 mile-an-hour fastball, he just moves the ball around very well. He’s got great confidence in what he’s doing.”
Melvin said the A’s have an indomitable attitude and it’s served them well both this season and last. He said:
“It’s just the personality of the team and the guys, so even if we do get down in the late innings we still feel like we have a good chance to come back.”
And come back they did. After Petit shut the Rays threat down the Athletics got down to brass tacks. Facing Diego Castillo (L, 1-6, 3.93 ERA) in relief of Chirinos, Beau Taylor drew a lead off walk and Marcus Semien got to work on a new hitting-streak, after snapping an 18-game streak Friday night, following Taylor’s walk with a single.
Chapman stole back the lead for the second time Saturday when he knocked pinch-runner Josh Phegley in on his 20th double of the season.
Melvin spoke ahead of the contest of being dismayed by the fact that Chapman may get snubbed in this year’s All Star selections. Nevertheless, he spoke highly of his third baseman’s ability to consistently come up big for the A’s. In the wake of Oakland’s victory Saturday the skipper said:
“That just shows you the type of player he is, whether it’s a defensive play, whether it’s a base running [play]–he does everything really well, and he steps up in bigger situations.”
Castillo intentionally walked Matt Olson, loading the bases, and a batter later he drilled Laureano, forcing home an A’s insurance run, making it 4-2.
Liam Hendriks (S, 1, 3-0, 1.49) came in to pitch the ninth for his first save of the season, the second of his career.
A’s righty Brett Anderson (7-4, 3.68 ERA) will start the series finale with Tampa Bay Sunday. The Rays have yet to announce a starter for the 1:07 p.m. matinee at the Oakland Coliseum.
A’s closer Blake Treinen underwent an MRI Saturday and Melvin said he will be placed on the injured list with a strained right shoulder. Melvin said Hendriks will take over ninth inning duties.
Of Hendriks, Melvin said:
“He’s moved all the way up from basically a guy that was pitching behind in games for the most part… as the year went along he started pitching better and better, and now he’s got himself in closer’s role.”