The A’s play like the team they’re supposed to be
OAKLAND — Don’t pack away the bunting. Or the hopes. The Athletics’ season goes on. September may have ended Wednesday, but baseball in Oakland continues.
The team the A’s were supposed to be, the one given a strong chance to make the World Series, the one with big bats and bountiful pitching, showed up — as they would say in the movies — in the nick of time, beating the Chicago White Sox, 5-3.
It was not without a few deep breaths, of course. Chicago had a run in and the bases loaded in the ninth, but — exhale — MVP candidate José Abreu grounded to second for the final out.
So the best-of-three series goes on one more afternoon, Thursday, once more in the sunshine and haze of the Coliseum, which is bereft of fans but suddenly packed with drama.
The A’s understood, as did their absent supporters, the importance of a game that in truth was more than a game, it was a curse. Oakland had lost five in a row when facing postseason elimination. Included were the one-game wild cards against the Yankees in 2018 and the Rays in 2019.
And here they were, losers of the first game in 2020.
“We knew the numbers,” said A’s pitcher Chris Bassitt. “We feel like the monkey’s off our back a little bit, and it’s just play baseball from here on out. We’re excited, obviously, but relieved, if anything.”
Aren’t starters usually relieved, no matter how they do? In starting Wednesday in a must-win game, Bassitt was brilliant. He went seven innings, giving up a run, six hits and a walk.
An interesting few days for the ball clubs in Northern California. Last week the Giants waived pitcher Jeff Samardzija, and it was Samardzija who in 2014 was traded to Oakland along with Marcus Semien by the White Sox. Semien’s two-run homer in the second gave the A’s an early lead.
Oakland knew what to expect from Bassitt. He had been the American League pitcher of the month for September. It was the offense — not even a base runner in six innings Tuesday — that caused some concern.
Then again, when your starter is as effective as Bassitt and the bullpen — Liam Hendriks, wobbly 49 pitches; and Jake Diekman, the last out and the win — capable, you probably don’t need a lot of runs.
Bassitt has been a swingman, pitching when needed and starring when required — like Wednesday.
“He had to be good today, or we were going to be in trouble,” A's manager Bob Melvin said.
Trouble? Being done for the season is more than trouble, it’s mortifying. It’s ”Where are my golf clubs?”
“That’s probably the game of his life,” Melvin said. "He’s been waiting for that his entire life — and he responded really well.”
No quibbling that Bassitt’s life hasn’t been that long — he’s 31 — but in sports, when there’s success there’s hyperbole.
Also there are immediate peaks and valleys. Momentum in baseball is dependent on pitching. On Tuesday, the A’s looked helpless at the plate. On Wednesday, they seemed relentless. Such a rapid change.
“Seems like we’ve had a lot of games lately where it’s zeros the first time through the lineup,” said Semien, “and then get a hit that wakes us up.
“A lot of times it’s a home run. Hits like that are contagious. It seemed like guys were all over (White Sox starter Dallas) Keuchel in the first inning, just being aggressive, and I thought that looked like the right approach. That’s what I took into my second at-bat.”
Then he took the ball out of the park, as a short while later did teammate Khris Davis.
Super pitching, timely hitting. That will stop any losing streak, short or long. But can the A’s stop the White Sox again?