OAKLAND — The A’s have offered glimpses this season of the top-notch baseball they’re capable of playing.
This weekend provided another of those snapshot moments as the A’s polished off an improbable four-game sweep of the Yankees, sending away a large, vocal segment of New York fans with nothing but disappointment as they filed out of the Coliseum.
The wins grew more impressive as the weekend unfolded. Oakland won in fluky fashion Thursday night on Khris Davis’ blooper-turned-walkoff single. Rookie Matt Chapman delivered the go-ahead single late in Friday’s game for a comeback victory. Then over the weekend, before two of their biggest home crowds of the season, the A’s simply beat the American League East leaders with stellar pitching and some early offense that they made stand, including in Sunday’s 4-3 win.
“This was awesome baseball to be a part of,” right fielder Matt Joyce said, “to see our team go out there and not only keep up with, but beat one of the best teams in baseball.”
Joyce dusted off the “Jekyll and Hyde” cliche to describe Oakland’s play, but nothing more perfectly describes this club. The A’s are 22-13 at the Coliseum but just 9-25 on the road.
But taking four in a row from a Yankees team that leads the league in runs and boasts an MVP candidate in rookie Aaron Judge provides a substantial boost as the AL West-leading Houston Astros arrive Monday for a four-game series.
“This feels really good,” reliever Sean Doolittle said. “To put four games together against a team that’s that good, one of the best teams in the American League, and come away with a four-game sweep is really big for us.”
The topic of the 2012 A’s came up in manager Bob Melvin’s media session before and after the game. That team began a mad rush to the AL West title with help from a four-game sweep of the Yankees at home in late July. That team had young players such as starter Jarrod Parker, right fielder Josh Reddick and All-Star reliever Ryan Cook, who all grew up fast as that season progressed and were instrumental contributors to a playoff team.
Some parallels can be drawn with this year’s crop of up-and-coming players — among them infielder Chad Pinder, Chapman and Sunday’s winning pitcher, Jharel Cotton.
The difference is this year’s team faces a much steeper climb if it’s to make headway in the standings. That 2012 club finished its sweep of the Yankees to improve to 51-44 and was in great stalking position at 5 1/2 games out of first place. The 2017 A’s are 31-38. They’re 15 games off the pace in the division, and though they’re just 4 1/2 games back for the second Wild Card spot, there are nine teams ahead of them. But that’s not the point. With the A’s emphasizing a youth movement, the rest of this season is about the growth and the journey more so than the final destination.
“If you’re a Matt Chapman, a Chad Pinder, a Jaycob Brugman, guys that are just getting here, to know you can have a series like this gives you a lot of confidence, not only in yourself but as a team,” Melvin said.
The A’s finished off their first series sweep of any length since September of last season, and they did it with a mix of veterans and youngsters sharing the load Sunday. Cotton gritted his way through six innings of three-run ball on a day that registered as the hottest at the Coliseum in nine years based on the first-pitch temperature (90 degrees).
Pinder came through with a terrific at-bat in the A’s four-run third, driving a 1-2 pitch to the opposite field for a two-run double. Two batters later, Khris Davis snapped a power drought by hammering a two-run homer deep to center, his first long ball since June 4. That put the A’s up for good, 4-2. And for the second day in a row, with closer Santiago Casilla unavailable, Doolittle slammed the door in the ninth for the save.