Athletics

A's confidence keeps building with four-game sweep of Yankees

A's confidence keeps building with four-game sweep of Yankees

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.

In shadow of controversy, Matt Joyce now drawing attention for right reasons

In shadow of controversy, Matt Joyce now drawing attention for right reasons

OAKLAND — The move from Royals manager Ned Yost came as no surprise to Matt Joyce as he waited in the on-deck circle.

Yost had a lefty on the mound in Mike Minor, who had fallen behind 2-0 to Rajai Davis. The intentional walk was ordered to load the bases to bring up the left-handed hitting Joyce with the A’s trailing by two runs in the eighth inning.

“I kind of saw the cards unfolding,” Joyce said.

He made the Royals pay, drilling a bases-clearing double off the wall in left-center for the go-ahead hit that made the difference in the A’s thrilling 10-8 victory Tuesday night.

In a game where Oakland needed so many big at-bats from so many different hitters, Joyce shined the brightest. He homered to lead off the bottom of the first, then capped his four-RBI night with the clutch three-run hit off Minor.

Earlier this season, it would have been tough envisioning Joyce barreling up a ball off a lefty in such a situation. He was hitting a meager .194 overall in his first 54 games in an A’s uniform. Before Tuesday, just two of his 46 RBI had come off left-handed pitchers.

“He’s been facing some (more) lefties, so he’s got some confidence against them,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He’s been hitting some balls hard against them and using the whole field and tracking it — seeing it the other way. He put a really good swing on that one” in the eighth.

Joyce grabbed headlines for the wrong reasons on the A’s last road trip, drawing a two-game suspension from the commissioner’s office for directing an anti-gay slur at a fan at Angel Stadium. He gave a heartfelt apology afterward.

That mistake has overshadowed the fact that he’s turning in a very strong August, resembling more of the offensive presence the A’s envisioned when they signed him to a two-year $11 million contract last winter.

Joyce is still batting just .234 overall. But he’s a .314 hitter this month (11-for-35). With 17 homers, he’s on track for the first 20-homer season of his career. At 50 RBI, he’s also within reach of his career high in that category (75) with 42 games to go.

After Tuesday night’s victory — when the A’s allowed five runs in the top of the eighth to relinquish a lead, only to score six in the bottom half to re-claim it — Joyce was most interested in talking about his teammates.

“I'm so proud of these guys,” Joyce said. “Obviously it's tough to give up the runs and give up the lead there late in the game. But to be able to come back and battle and have good at-bats and start a rally and just come away with the win, it speaks a lot to these guys’ ability to keep playing the game, not give up. It's really fun to watch a lot of these young, really talented guys play the game and play it the right way.”

With the A’s dedicating so much playing time to young guys, it would serve Joyce well to finish strong and show he’s an important piece of the outfield puzzle looking ahead to next season.

On Tuesday night, in one of the A’s most unpredictable victories, no one proved more essential.

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways as A's score six in eighth to beat KC

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AP

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways as A's score six in eighth to beat KC

BOX SCORE

OAKLAND — Why win a baseball game conventionally?

That was the A’s M.O. on Tuesday night, when they scored six times in the bottom of the eighth to register a come-from-behind 10-8 victory over the Kansas City Royals.

Actually, the A’s had to fall from ahead before they could come from behind.

The Royals homered three times in the top of the eighth to erase the A’s 4-3 lead and go up 8-4, only to see the A’s storm back with an offensive barrage of their own that included four hits in a row to start the bottom of the eighth.

All told, the teams combined for 11 runs in the eighth inning alone.

Matt Joyce delivered the key hit in the winning rally, clearing the bases with a three-run double that put Oakland up for good, 9-8.

Fitting that these two teams would stage such a back-and-forth affair in the late going. The A’s and Royals entered the night tied for the major league lead with nine wins when trailing after the seventh inning.

BIG GAME AT THE TOP: Joyce led off the bottom of the first with a homer off Royals starter Jason Hammel, his fourth leadoff homer of the season. He finished with four RBI.

SMITH DENIED ‘W’ — AGAIN: For the second time since joining the A’s rotation, Chris Smith left a game in line for a victory only to have his bullpen cough up the lead. The 36-year-old veteran has registered just one victory in his major league career, and that came back in 2008. He has yet to win as a starter. He steadied himself after giving up three runs in the first before he recorded a single out. But Kansas City would get just one more hit off of him before he left the game after 5 1/3 innings.

THREE OF A KIND: The A’s commanded a 4-3 lead on the strength of a homer in each of the first three innings. Joyce’s blast was followed by Matt Olson’s in the second (his fourth homer in five games) and Khris Davis’ two-run shot in the third.

ADVENTURES OF SANTIAGO: Santiago Casilla had found a bit of a comfort zone since being demoted from the closer’s role. He entered Tuesday not having been charged with a run in seven consecutive outings. But he allowed Alex Gordon’s leadoff walk in the top of the eighth, then a two-run homer to No. 9 hitter Drew Butera that put the Royals ahead 5-4.

A’s closer Blake Treinen would enter with one out and give up Eric Hosmer’s two-run homer, then Mike Moustakas’ solo blast two batters later made it 8-4. But after the A’s rallied, Treinen came back to pitch a scoreless ninth to register the victory.

ANOTHER OPTION FOR THE ‘PEN: The A’s acquired right-handed reliever Chris Hatcher from the Dodgers for $500,000 in international bonus money. The 32-year-old has a 4.72 ERA in 193 career appearances, all out of the bullpen. The team made no announcement on whether Hatcher would join the big club or go to the minors.