OAKLAND -- With the Oakland Athletics in win-or-go-home mode it is still business as usual at the Oakland Coliseum. For the third day in a row A's manager Bob Melvin met with a select few daily beat writers in the clubhouse after his press conference. Why is this news? Because for the third day in a row he stood in the exact same spot in the hallway, and so did we the media. Melvin is a man that never hides his superstitious nature. The A's may need all the supernatural assistance they can get. Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander is 3-0 against the A's this season. He has only allowed two runs in his three starts against the A's this season. Six years ago today, Verlander started Game 4 of the American League Championship Series as the Tigers swept the A's. So how do the A's beat Verlander? "One of the things you try and do is drive his pitch count up," Melvin said. "Sometimes it's tough to do. And a lot of times he is out there for 130 pitches."In Verlander's three starts against the A's he has never gone past the seventh inning. He has thrown 121, 122, and 104 pitches in those starts, so they have been able to work his count up and get him out of the game. One key factor will be the strike zone. Verlander is the reigning American League MVP and Cy Young award-winner so he tends to get a favorable strike zone. In Game 1 the A's hitters looked to be a bit frustrated with some of the called strikes home plate umpire Jim Reynolds awarded Verlander. In Game 5 it will be Wally Bell behind home plate. "I think there's always the reputation involved," Melvin said of Verlander's strike zone. "I'd rather be on the other end of that where we felt like we got some. I'm not going to say it was significantly different but it's something you have to be aware of."Either way, Melvin says he is hopeful the strike zone gets established early. The A's have some advantages of their own in Game 5. The sellout crowd at the Oakland Coliseum has been a factor for the A's in this series and that won't be changing. "I was having a tough time communicating with my coaches in the ninth inning it was so loud," Melvin said. With the series evened up at two games a piece this series is tough to call. "We're at home, they have their ace on the mound, we have a guy that we are very comfortable with too, he's pitched very well for us this year," Melvin said. "It's like a pretty even draw at this point. Our fans are definitely a plus for us and we feel it." Jarrod Parker went six and one-third innings in Game 1. He allowed three runs on seven hits. He will become the youngest pitcher in 15 years to start in a deciding game. The A's already set a Major League record by starting three rookie starting pitchers in this series. The A's young pitching staff has held its own against a tough Detroit lineup. They have 30 strikeouts in this series and have issued just five walks. A's starting pitchers are 1-1 with a 1.93 ERA and .244 opponents batting average in this series. Injury UpdatesBrett Anderson said he felt his right oblique pulling a little bit during his Game 3 start. He threw a bullpen on Thursday. If the A's advance to the ALCS he will be on track to pitch. "From what I heard I think he feels pretty good," Melvin said. "Yesterday it was a little sore which you can understand and today it was much better." Jordan Norberto has thrown from 120 feet but has yet to throw from a mound. "It would be tough to consider him an option no matter where we go at this point," Melvin said. Brandon McCarthy is throwing from 120 feet. He has yet to return to a mound. He is working very hard to make a return to the rotation a possibility if the A's can make it to the World Series. "I'd hate to rule anything out as far as that goes because he is trying so hard to get back," Melvin said. "Until he gets on a mound we are not sure."McCarthy's return would be of miraculous nature. On September 7, his situation was described as "life threatening" by athletics trainer Nick Paparesta. McCarthy underwent brain surgery after getting hit in the head by a line drive on September 5. "He'd have to get off a mound," Melvin said. "We'd potentially have to get him some hitters. There's a ways to go but I am certainly not going to be the guy that's going to says there's no way."
Bob Melvin is making no changes to his lineup in Game 1 against the Astros, but the manager did make one defensive change.
Oakland A's (10-12)
1. Jaff Decker (L) CF
2. Matt Joyce (L) RF
3. Jed Lowrie (S) 2B
4. Khris Davis (R) LF
5. Yonder Alonso (L) 1B
6. Ryon Healy (R) DH
7. Stephen Vogt (L) C
8. Trevor Plouffe (R) 3B
9. Adam Rosales (R) SS
Jharel Cotton -- RHP
Houston Astros (14-8)
1. George Springer (R) CF
2. Josh Reddick (L) RF
3. Jose Altuve (R) 2B
4. Carlos Correa (R) SS
5. Carlos Beltran (S) DH
6. Yuli Gurriel (R) 1B
7. Evan Gattis (R) C
8. Alex Bregman (R) 3B
9. Norichika Aoki (L) LF
Charlie Morton -- RHP
ANAHEIM — The A’s collection of individual highlights during their visit to Angel Stadium shouldn’t have equated to a three-game sweep for their opponent.
Jesse Hahn fired eight one-hit innings Tuesday, the same night Josh Phegley delivered a pinch-hit homer in the 10th before the A’s lost in 11 innings. On Thursday, Kendall Graveman turned in perhaps the defensive play of the 2017 season by a pitcher, recording an unassisted double play that was the first by an A’s pitcher in 46 years.
All great moments to relive in the clubhouse afterward, but surely they ring a bit hollow given the final outcomes. The A’s were swept by an Angels team that, like Oakland, has been hit hard by the injury bug. Los Angeles is without key relievers Huston Street, Andrew Bailey, Cam Bedrosian and Mike Morin, not to mention starter Garrett Richards among others.
Yet the Angels pitching staff twice held the A’s to one run over the three-game series, including Thursday’s 2-1 defeat, when the A’s mustered just three hits.
“We’re a little streaky right now,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “… Give them credit, they pitched really well, and they really are down a lot of guys in the bullpen. We would expect to do a little more damage.”
They couldn’t Thursday, and that it made it tough to savor Graveman’s incredible play the way they should have.
With runners on the corners and no outs, he fielded Juan Graterol’s comebacker and caught Ben Revere in a rundown between third and home. Graveman ran him down and after applying the tag, hurdled Revere and made the tag on Cliff Pennington, who was trying to advance from first to third in the chaos.
“That’s probably the best play I’ve ever seen a pitcher make, hurdling over an (opponent) to get the second out unassisted,” Melvin said. “I didn’t even know how to put that one down on my card.”
Graveman, one of the A’s better overall athletes, was asked if he’d ever recorded an unassisted double play before.
“Never. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one,” he said. “(Ryan) Madson said he’s never seen one and he’s watched over 2,000 games.”
Incredibly, the last A’s pitcher to pull off an unassisted double play previously was in attendance Thursday night. John “Blue Moon” Odom did it back on July 11, 1971, also against the Angels. Odom attends most of the A’s games in Anaheim, and he’s struck up a friendship with Graveman over the years.
“Every time we come here and even in spring training, I try to catch up with Blue Moon Odom and see how he’s doing,” Graveman said. “He and Wash (former A’s infield coach Ron Washington) are friends so we always cut up about Wash. He’s a great guy. He sits in the front row. He came in and saw me right before stretch and told me ‘I’m gonna be front row watching you.’ That is pretty neat that that happened.”
A’s first baseman Yonder Alonso said he’s never surprised to see Graveman make a great defensive play.
“The guy’s a pitcher, but it feels like he’s a shortstop playing the position.”
Graveman was visited by trainers after the fifth-inning play, but Melvin said it was mainly to give the pitcher a breather and let him get his adrenaline under control. Neither Graveman nor his manager revealed anything specific that bothered Graveman. Seeing him stay in the game and complete six innings of two-run ball had to be encouraging for Melvin.
“The first thing I asked him was ‘What’d you fall on?’” Melvin said. “He said, ‘My butt.’ I said, ‘Well, you’re all right then.’ But you’re not gonna see that play again probably.”
The A’s are giving their manager and fans some accomplishments to marvel over. As they move on to Houston trying to halt a four-game losing streak, they just need to figure things out on the scoreboard.