The A’s take a step — a huge one

© Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Athletics called it a step. And they were correct. It was a step from agony to relief, a step from disappointment to contentment.

Don’t let the words mislead you, the idea the A’s downplayed the 6-4 win over the Chicago White Sox on Thursday in the smoke and haze of the Coliseum as, ho hum, just another victory. And there are more important games ahead.

This is huge. This was the win the A’s hadn’t had in seven years, advancing them past their opening obstacle in the baseball postseason. True, it was only the wild card, but the past two seasons when the wild card was the critical game, the A’s had lost that game.

And this autumn when, because of the pandemic, the format was changed to best of three, they dropped the opener. Then, playing like the team some suggested would get to the World Series, they came through.

It wasn’t easy or pretty on Thursday, but it was long, more than four hours, not surprising when the pitchers, eight of them, walked nine. But what’s four hours when you’ve been waiting for years?

“We came in the spring expecting to be in this spot,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin.

Still, they hadn’t been in that spot for the longest time, and since it’s the nature of journalists to emphasize the negative, it was almost impossible to avoid the reminders.

“It’s a little bit of weight off our shoulders after the past two years, moving on,” said Chad Pinder, whose two-run single with the bases loaded in the fifth was the difference.

Moving on to Houston to play the Astros, and yes, via Zoom — the players are in a bubble — there were questions about the ‘Stros cheating on calling out pitches, but for the moment let’s dwell on Oakland.

Pinder had been dealing with a sore hamstring, but that didn’t appear to limit his ability to smack the ball.

“Pinder had an absolutely terrific game, playing on a bad hammy,” said Melvin. “You want your best and toughest players out there in games like that, and those guys showed up today.”

One of those was Liam Hendriks, the reliever from Australia, mate, who struck out the side in the ninth, a nice flourish to a particularly ragged game. Those noon starts are tough on players.

“I woke up this morning feeling this was going to be a hard game,” said Melvin, “and it was a hard game.”

A game in which the A’s trailed, 3-0, then went in front, 4-3, on consecutive bases-loaded walks (managers love that), were tied again, 4-4, and got the go-ahead hit from Pinder.

“I was grateful for the opportunity,” a delightfully humble Pinder said of his performance. “Those are the kind of moments you want to be in.”

Because of Melvin’s belief that he wants in the lineup those he considers the best, even when not completely healthy, Pinder started, making himself look good and the manager look brilliant. (The A’s lost their Gold Glove third baseman, Matt Chapman, a month ago.)

Because of the White Sox success against left-handed pitching, Melvin chose Mike Fiers as his starter, but Fiers was out of there quickly. Still, after passing up Fiers a year ago and going with Sean Manaea, “It was a fun call for me to finally reward him,” said Melvin.

The game, as has been the case with all others in the majors this year, was held without fans, which was unfortunate for the A’s. After the last out, long past 4 o’clock, the only “Celebration” was the playing of the 40-year-old song of that name by Kool & The Gang.