A's escape from New York

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A's escape from New York

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NEW YORK -- After 34 innings of pure unbridled agony in the Bronx, the A's can escape New York with their heads held high. On Sunday the scrappy A's faced the possibility of suffering through a crippling sweep and found a way to salvage the series with a 5-4 win.

INSTANT REPLAY: A's 5, Yankees 4

As manager Bob Melvin said after Saturday's extra inning loss, they played their hearts out. Oakland pushed the Yankees to the limit but fell just short in the first two games. Taking the series finale is crucial as the A's head to Texas for a four-game series still in striking distance of the division-leading Rangers.

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"It was a big game," Melvin said. "Each and every game will be big, but probably to this point and time of the year that was our biggest win." It was the biggest game of the year until Monday's game in Texas, then Tuesday's game, and Wednesday's game, and Thursday's game, and so forth. The magic number for Oakland to clinch a spot in the Wild Card playoff game is nine. They are four games behind the Rangers in the American League West with seven games to play against Texas. "Playing these games that mean something is the coolest thing I've been a part of," Cliff Pennington said. "It's awesome."Pennington went 3 for 4 with a home run and three RBI against the Yankees on Sunday. He gave the A's a 3-0 lead in the second inning when he crushed a slider thrown by Yankees' starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda into the right field seats, and smacked the game-winning RBI single against Kuroda in the sixth inning. Pennington has turned his season around since being moved from shortstop to second base. "He's just back to the type of player that you saw last year," Melvin said. "I don't know if it has anything to do with just making that change but it kind of gave him a re-birth." Once Pennington gave the A's the lead in the sixth inning the bullpen locked down the game. The A's relievers combined to pitch five scoreless innings against the Bronx Bombers, an impressive feat especially when considering they were a depleted and tired unit after two consecutive extra innings games. "Those guys stepped up huge," Pennington said of the bullpen. "They've been stepping up huge for us all year. That's been pretty much the backbone of this team from day one anyway." Oakland's relief pitchers threw 17 23 innings in the series against the Yankees. No inning was bigger than the ninth inning on Sunday. That's when closer Grant Balfour took the mound with a one-run lead and a chance to send the A's off to Texas with some momentum. He retired the side in order but not before one moment that made the collection of A's players, and fans' hearts skip a beat. With one out Alex Rodriguez hit a towering fly ball toward the short porch in right field. Josh Reddick tracked the ball to the wall and made a hop as he caught it. The 43,867 in attendance thought the game was about to be tied at five. "I don't want to say it skips a beat, you'd have to have your eyes open for it to skip a beat," Melvin said jokingly."The way things went for us in this series you never know," Balfour said. "I knew he didn't get it good but I knew that he's strong enough. He doesn't have to hit a ball perfect to get it out especially down that right field line it's so short." Rodriguez went 0 for 5 and struck out three times. He was booed by his home crowd several times during the game. Two of the three strikeouts came with starting pitcher A.J. Griffin on the mound. He had A-Rod's number, but struggled with the rest of New York's lineup. Griffin only lasted four and one-third innings. He allowed four runs on seven hits and three walks. After starting an Oakland record 6-0, he's had two consecutive sub-par starts. "He just ran into a little bit of a tough spot," Melvin said. "They're always going to work the count and get your pitch count up, foul some balls off like they did for him." Not getting swept by the Yankees helps ensure the loose A's clubhouse doesn't start getting tense. Many of the players in the A's clubhouse haven't dealt with the pressures of a playoff chase.
"We can't play with our backs against the wall," Balfour said. "We've got to play free and easy baseball and enjoy it, give it all we've got, because we've been good all year so let's just keep going."

A's spring training update Day 6: Davis savors winter in Oakland

A's spring training update Day 6: Davis savors winter in Oakland

MESA, Ariz. — Khris Davis enjoyed quite an offseason travel itinerary, checking out Toronto, taking in the beaches of Hawaii and dining on lobster in Belize.

However, it was the time spent in his adopted hometown of Oakland that most struck a chord with the A’s left fielder. After finishing his first season with the A’s, Davis followed through on his plan to make his offseason home in Oakland, and he was glad he did.

“I got to just feel the heart of the city,” he said upon arriving at camp Sunday. “That was basically the purpose of why I was there. … I wanted to feel Oakland. I love it, honestly. I love the city.”

He trained at Dogtown Athletic, a gym in West Oakland. He took part in the A’s holiday party for kids at the Oakland Zoo, joined by A’s Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, who grew up in the city.

“Just to feel these kids’ happiness,” Davis said. “They didn’t look at me as a baseball player. They just looked at me as a role model kind of.”

It should be music to the ears of A’s fans that the team’s most dangerous hitter has a love affair with the city he plays in. If the A’s ever entertained the idea of trying to sign Davis to a multi-year extension, and that’s purely hypothetical here, it would help that Davis feels comfortable in his surroundings.

Even when he described Oakland in edgy terms, such as when he said it “has its dark side,” he seemed to find it endearing.

In return, Davis felt the love from the fan base in 2016, hitting a career-high 42 homers with a team-best 102 RBI. That was despite the awful start he got off to, hitting .143 and mustering just one RBI over his first 12 games.

Obviously, any chances the A’s have of improving last year’s American League-worst offense rely on the 29-year-old Davis having another big year. But over-analysis is one thing he tries to avoid.

“I don’t want to get caught up in last year — the slow start and the strong finish, whatever,” he said. “However it was, I’m just ready to do this year.”

Davis decided to back out of his plan to play for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, saying his main priority was preparing for his A’s season.

“My main focus is to perform for the organization,” he said. “I feel like I want to get off on the right foot this year.”

NOTEWORTHY: Heavy showers continued to pelt Mesa on Sunday, spoiling the A’s first full-squad workout. The hitters were relegated to swinging in the cages and playing catch, while pitchers were scheduled for a day off from throwing on the mound anyway.

“If ever there was a day, at least for the pitchers, that you don’t need to (work out), it’s today,” manager Bob Melvin said. “But when you have everybody there on the first day, you wanna get out on the field and do everything. Hopefully we can incorporate everything tomorrow.”

The A’s have a whopping 70 players in camp, more than in any other spring Melvin can remember as a big league manager. He addressed the full team in a meeting Sunday morning.

His message?

“We’re gonna have to outwork, out-hustle everybody like we have in the past,” he said, “and get back to playing the game with the same tenacity that we did a couple years ago.”

FAMILIAR FACE: Longtime A’s second baseman Mark Ellis is back for the second year in a row as a spring infield instructor. The plan is for Ellis to spend a week with the team now, then another week later in camp.

“I’ll take Mark Ellis as many days as I can have him,” Melvin said.

LIGHTER SIDE: Nursing his broken right foot, starting pitcher Daniel Mengden has been making his way through the clubhouse on a knee scooter in order to keep pressure off his foot.

Apparently, it looks more fun than it really is.

“I contribute to society Friday, when I can start walking again,” Mengden quipped.

BART, transportation among issues A's tackling in ballpark search

BART, transportation among issues A's tackling in ballpark search

MESA, Ariz. — The research and fact-finding continues for the A’s as they work toward deciding where to build their new ballpark in Oakland.

Team president Dave Kaval, in Arizona to briefly soak up the spring training vibe, says the team is still gathering all the information it can on the four locations being considered — the current Coliseum site, Howard Terminal, Laney College and Brooklyn Basin, which like Howard Terminal is a waterfront site.

Place an asterisk next to “four,” because as Kaval explains, there’s multiple spots a ballpark could be built at some of the locations.

For example, “there’s a couple different ways in the Lake Merritt area to orient a ballpark,” he said Sunday. “Each one has to be studied individually, because there’s traffic and parking issues that change depending on where you put it. There’s a couple ways it can work in and around Lake Merritt. So we kind of are looking at it as two different options.”

The research will continue for the “next couple of months,” according to Kaval, meaning it doesn’t seem any decision is forthcoming soon. But he reiterated that an announcement will come during 2017.

Kaval was asked how important it was for a ballpark to be near a BART station.

“I think if you’re in a certain range of a BART station, it doesn’t matter if it’s one block or two blocks,” he said. “But if you start getting a little farther, it does change people’s willingness to actually take that public transportation to the venue.”

Howard Terminal, located just north of Jack London Square, is a 20-25 minute walk to the nearest current BART station (12th Street). There’s been speculation that a new station could be built closer to Howard Terminal if a stadium went up. Kaval also said the A’s would consider some sort of shuttle service were they to build at Howard Terminal, and they’re researching the ferry options for such a location.

Long story short, there’s still plenty of transportation and environmental issues to sort out before the A’s settle on a site to build. In the meantime, fans will be in for a treat in the upcoming season when they arrive at the Coliseum.

The A’s gutted the West Side Club and are rebuilding it as Shibe Park Tavern, named after the franchise’s former home in Philadelphia. It will include bricks and other materials from the old ballpark, obtained from the Philadelphia Historical Society.

The A’s will also launch “Champions Pavilion”, which will include anywhere from eight to 16 local food trucks that will be stationed between the Coliseum and Oracle Arena during most home games. Ticket holders will have in/out privileges, with video monitors outside showing the game.

Nights when there’s a Warriors home game could make it tougher to pull off the full operation — Warriors playoff games will be a particular challenge, Kaval said — but the A’s will work with the Coliseum’s Joint Powers Authority to smooth things out as much as possible.

According to Kaval, the A’s are spending between $600,000-$700,000 to improve the current in-house concession stands, making it possible to cook inside the stands themselves as opposed to transporting food from the kitchen.

The efforts received a thumbs-up from A’s manager Bob Melvin.

“We’re there until we’re not,” Melvin said of the Coliseum. “We’re gonna be there for a period of time, so I appreciate the fact that he’s trying to spruce it up a little bit for our fans, give them more options for food and just create a better atmosphere in our ballpark.”