HOUSTON – Before the first hit or the first base runner, there is belief.
The A’s have confidence that they can mount a ninth-inning comeback because they’ve done it so many times before.
A couple hitters reach base, a reliever starts to sweat. Before you know it, it’s the A’s – down multiple runs on the scoreboard -- who feel like they’ve got the opponent right where they want them.
Oakland did it again Tuesday night, turning a three-run deficit into a 7-4 victory over the Houston Astros. This one was unique in how the A’s piled it on, sending 11 men to the plate during a six-run rally that resulted in their 11th victory this season when trailing after seven innings, the most in the majors.
Their 18 last at-bat wins are tied with Miami for the most.
“We get that feeling going on in our dugout where we’re not gonna give up,” outfielder Josh Reddick said. “We get a little bit of a momentum swing and it usually ends up favoring us.”
Reddick, making his first start of the season in center field, homered in the fifth and doubled to help set the ninth-inning rally in motion. Alberto Callaspo came off the bench to deliver a pinch-hit two-run single that cut the deficit to 4-3. With two outs and a man on first, Jed Lowrie worked a full-count walk. Yoenis Cespedes, who had doubled twice in the game, looped a game-tying single into shallow right off Astros closer Chad Qualls that scored John Jaso.
“I’ve said often that our late-inning at bats are as good as I’ve ever seen with a team,” manager Bob Melvin said. “It took way more than just one good at-bat in the ninth to get that done.”
If there was anyone in an A’s uniform who shouldn’t have been confident walking to the plate, it was Brandon Moss. He was in an 0-for-14 slump and flied out to left with runners in scoring position in each of his first three at-bats Tuesday. Facing left-handed reliever Tony Sipp, Moss drilled a go-ahead single through the infield shift he usually faces to give the A’s a 5-4 lead.
“Once we got a few guys on, the confidence started to build because holes are opening up,” Moss said. “A lot of good things happen when you get guys on base.”
Worth noting is the effect that the A’s comeback potential has on their own pitching staff. Tuesday’s starter, Jeff Samardzija, has been with Oakland just over three weeks, but he realizes any run that he can keep off the board might be valuable.
“I learned real fast once I came over here, no matter what the inning or situation, you battle and try to get out of every inning with the least amount of damage possible,” said Samardzija, who gave up four runs over 6 2/3 innings. “This team, they don’t quit. And as long as you keep it close, they’re gonna give you a chance to win the game.”
Down in the bullpen, closer Sean Doolittle watched the top of the ninth play out and started gearing up mentally, knowing he might end up entering to protect a lead.
“I’ve learned, you gotta stick with your routine because you never know how things are gonna unfold,” said Doolittle, who notched his 16th save.
Little did the A’s know that as they were rallying in the ninth, the Baltimore Orioles knocked off the Los Angeles Angels 7-6 in 12 innings, with a walk-off homer courtesy of none other than Manny Machado. Faced with the possibility of their division lead shrinking to a half-game, the A’s instead pushed it to 2 ½ games.
And as the A’s exited the field at Minute Maid Park after getting the final out, they were greeted by a throng of A’s fans gathered by the dugout. There’s a large contingent in town for this series, and a “Let’s Go Oakland!” chant could be heard throughout the ballpark in the ninth.
“The game’s over and we’re shaking hands and there’s probably 50 Oakland fans right over the top of our dugout – in green,” Melvin said.
For eight innings, those fans had little to cheer about. But the A’s know something about providing an entertaining final act.