A late home run by Josh Willingham gave the Minnesota Twins a come-from-behind victory in Tuesday’s series opener against the Oakland Athletics, but the A’s hitters didn’t give the home team any such opportunity Wednesday night.
Oakland piled it on in an 18-3 win, scoring 10 runs in a seemingly never ending fourth inning to hit around Minnesota’s pitching staff in relentless fashion. It’s the most runs ever scored by a visiting team at Target Field, and there wasn’t a single player in the starting lineup that didn’t record a run, a hit and a RBI.
The scoring output and the 22 runs that caused it are both a season-high, and the A’s are looking like they’re starting to play their best baseball at the perfect time, especially since they’ll be heading to Texas to take on the second-place Rangers over the weekend.
Sonny Gray earned the win on the mound, pitching five quality innings and getting as much run support as any pitcher will ever enjoy. Some of the key contributors at the plate: Yoenis Cespedes (2-for-3 with three RBI’s in four innings), Jed Lowrie (2-for-4, double and home run), and Stephen Vogt (3-for-6 with one of the hardest hit homers you’ll ever see).
The A’s struck first and never looked back, putting a run on the board in the second inning thanks to a RBI double by Yoenis Cespedes. They tacked on two more in the top of the third, one on a solo shot off the right field foul pole by Coco Crisp to lead off the inning, the other being a RBI by Brandon Moss on a blooper to shallow center field that scored Josh Donaldson from second. Donaldson reached base after he was hit by a pitch on his right hand in his at-bat, a scary moment for a squad that’s stayed relatively healthy deep into the season. He showed no ill-effects from the play throughout the remainder of the game, however.
Crisp’s homer was the 19th of the season, his third of the month that brings him within one of being the first Oakland player since 1993 to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases.
Minnesota responded in the bottom half of the frame with a run of their own. Chris Herrmann singled to left to start things off, but Gray responded by striking out Pedro Florimon and getting Alex Presley to fly out to center in the next two at-bats. Unfortunately he walked Eduardo Escobar to keep the inning alive, and a single to left by Brian Dozier brought home the __ run of the game for the Twins.
Gray then struck out Oswaldo Garcia to strand runners at the corners, and he surely enjoyed watching over the next half inning as his teammates put together the first 10-run inning by an A’s team since 2000 when the club did it against Kansas City. They also tied the team record for hits in an inning with 10, which also happened in 2000 against the Royals, albeit in a separate game.
Daric Barton led off the fourth ining with a single, and Seth Smith followed it up with a double to right-center to put two runners in scoring position with no outs. Smith’s drive was initially in the glove of Presley as he lept into the wall, but the center fielder couldn’t hold on to it, and it would be another five batters before the Twins would get an out.
Stephen Vogt and Eric Sogard each got an RBI with line drive singles to make it 5-1, and Twins manager Ron Gardenhire went to the bullpen as starter Mike Pelfrey had already thrown 78 pitches.
Right-hander Josh Roenicke came in and gave up a single to Crisp on a fly ball that was chipped along the foul line shallow left field. Shortstop Pedro Florimon had a chance to make the play but couldn’t come up with the catch, and the missed opportunity resulted in a bases loaded opportunity for Donaldson, who singled to left to bring home Vogt and make it 6-1.
With the bases still loaded, Lowrie smacked a shot down the first base line that was initially called foul. After the umpire crew convened, it was ruled a fair ball and Lowrie was awarded second base with two runs coming in. It was a very close play that could’ve been called either way, but after meeting to talk about it first base umpire Bill Miller was overruled by another member of the crew in the Oakland’s favor.
Gardenhire was not so pleased with the reversed call, and after arguing with the umps for a minute or two he was ejected. If he was trying to inspire his players, it worked for a moment; Brandon Moss struck out in the next at-bat for the first out of the inning. It didn’t last long, as Cespedes drove in two more runs on a double to right to increase the lead to nine runs.
That’d be it for Roenicke, but reliever Ryan Pressly suffered a similar fate. Barton singled to center to put two men on, and after Smith grounded out, Vogt absolutely crushed a home run to the walkway in left field to put an exclamation point on the scoring barrage and make it 13-1 before Sogard grounded out to put an end to it all.
Gray got a shutdown performance in the bottom of the fourth, and amazingly enough the A’s actually scored three more times in the fifth to make it a season-high 16 runs on the day. After a one-out single by Donaldson, Lowrie connected on a low fastball from Cole de Vries, who was brought in to start the fifth, and sent it into the right field stands for his 12th homer of the year.
Next, Moss drew a walk and rounded the bases on a pulled ball to the right field corner by Josh Reddick, who had entered the game on defense for Cespedes in the fourth. The hit was initially ruled a home run, but upon review the umpires saw that the ball bounced off the very top of the wall without actually clearing it, and Reddick was awarded a double with Moss advancing to third.
Barton got his second RBI of the night on a sacrifice fly to center, and Oakland loaded the bases again before the fifth ended. They put 18 runners in scoring position on the night and brought them home 10 times on the night, and it was one of the more impressive offensive performances by any Major League team this season.
The victory was pretty much a certainty for the A’s after that, and manager Bob Melvin brought in call-ups Michael Choice, Andy Parrino and Jemile Weeks to finish out the games. Gray pitched his final inning in the fifth and gave up a RBI double to Presley after walking his third batter of the game. he got the final two outs without a struggle, and he finished the night with seven strikeouts while giving up four hits.
Some of the lesser used arms in the bullpen got some work as well. Former starter Tommy Milone pitched the sixth and got the first two outs before giving up a solo shot to Eric Fryer, the first career homer for the catcher.
The A’s offense quieted down the rest of the way without any urgency to spur them on, with the exception of a mere two runs in the top of the ninth. Weeks reached first on a poor throw to first off a grounder, and Moss brought him home with a double to center field. After a walk to Reddick, Nate Freiman hit into a double play that advanced Moss to third, and Smith hit a dribbler down the first base line that pitcher Michael Tonkin couldn’t get a grip on for the final out, and that pretty much summed up the Twins’ night as the A’s made it 18-3.
Prior to that Smith was the only member of the starting lineup not to get an RBI, and while they didn’t need the run, it rounded out the team effort at the plate for Oakland, which is nice.
Pedro Figueroa, Pat Neshek and Evan Scribner combined to allow no hits and two walks over the final three innings, and the Oakland Athletics went to the visitor’s clubhouse a full three games ahead of the Rangers in the AL West after Texas was swept by the Pirates earlier Wednesday.
The two teams will face off in the series rubber match tomorrow at 10:10 PST, and A.J. Griffin will be on the mound, going for his fourth win in a row against left-hander Scott Diamond.