Powered by five home runsincluding two from designated hitter Khris Davisand aided by outstanding long relief from J.B. Wendelken and A.J. Puk in the wake of a tough outing for starter Chris Bassitt, the Oakland Athletics (88-60) won tonights series opener against the Texas Rangers (74-75) at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Augmenting the As quintet of home runs, rookie catcher Sean Murphy doubled three times while fellow rookie Sheldon Neuse went 4-for-5 as the As outgunned the Rangers by a final score of 14-9.
The As bats got busy in the early goings. First baseman Matt Olson opened the scoring in the first inning with a solo home run off Rangers starter Brock Burke. Olsons 33rd long ball gave him sole possession of the biggest home runs total among all As hitters so far this season, ahead of Matt Chapmans 32.
Khris Davis, known to go deep regularly in Arlington, smacked a line drive over the center field wall in the second inning to make it 2-0. Then, with two outs in the same frame, Sean Murphy smoked one right down the third base line for a double and was subsequently plated by an RBI single from Sheldon Neuse, who started the game at third base to give Matt Chapman a breather.
The As held a 3-0 lead heading to the bottom of the second, but trailed at the close of the frame. Chris Bassitt walked Rangers right fielder Danny Santana leading off, and Santana stole second while Bassitt was busy striking out Rangers second baseman Roughned Odor. With two outs, first baseman Ronald Guzman sparked a big rally with an RBI double to Ramon Laureano in right field. Then catcher Jose Trevino singled to right, and designated hitter Shin-Soo Choo went high over the center field wall to score three more, putting the Rangers up 4-3.
Both teams kept mashing in the third inning and the game was shaping up to be a long one. Khrush went long again in the top frame, this time with Laureano and center fielder Mark Canha on the bases, to recapture the lead for the As.
The Rangers answered right back with a tres of their own in the bottom frame: left fielder Willie Calhoun singled and third baseman Nick Solak reached on a Neuse error to put two on, and then Santana hit his 25th homer of the season to put the Rangers up 7-6 with six innings yet to play.
Appearing unable to keep trouble at bay and with their pitch counts escalating in a hurry, both teams starters exited after just three innings . Both Bassitt and Burke allowed six earned runs in their brief starts; the former allowed two home runs while the latter yielded three. J.B. Wendelken, recently called back up from the minors to fill out the As 40 man roster, took over for the As. Adrian Sampson, remembered by As fans for some tense moments earlier in the season, relieved Burke for the Rangers.
Sampson and Wendelken were able to quiet the bats, but not until after Sampson allowed Ramon Laureano to tie the game at seven apiece with a sacrifice fly in the top of the fourth. Wendelken was stellar across three innings of relief, retiring all nine batters faced and striking out two. Tonights performance suggests he may bring much needed fortification to the As bullpen as the team makes its postseason push.
Meanwhile, the As retook the lead for good, scoring another trio of runs in the sixth with Ian Gibaut on the mound for the Rangers. Sean Murphy hit his second sharp double to left, shortstop Marcus Semien was issued an intentional walk, and that IBB proved a mistake on the Rangers part as Laureano hit his first home run since returning from the injured list. Ramon now has 22 on the season to match his jersey number.
A.J. Puk followed Wendelken out of the bullpen and continued the As dominant stretch on the mound. Puk pitched two perfect innings with high octane fastballs, though surprisingly he only struck out one. At the end of the eighth inning, As pitchers had retired 18 consecutive Rangers batters.
The As put up four more runs for good measure in the top of the ninth; that added insurance was almost necessary to secure the win. Seth Brown, pinch hitting for left fielder Chad Pinder, started the rally with a leadoff single. Then, with two outs, Sean Murphy got his third double of the gamethis one a bloop to shallow right field that rolled into foul territory. Neuse brought Murphy home a second time along with Brown on a base hit down the middle, and Semien finally got his first hit of the game: a two run home run that barely eluded the glove of Delino DeShields as it cleared the center field wall. It was Semiens 29th dinger of the season, and the As had doubled the Rangers production for the night, up 14-7.
Blake Treinen struggled again as he closed out the ninth for the As. He loaded the bases before getting any outs and allowed two runs on two hits and two walks, but eventually got it done as the As won their fourth straight, assured to remain in front of the AL Wild Card race at the end of the night regardless of how the Rays contest in Anaheim ends.
The As are now 9-5 against the Rangers on the season and have an opportunity to clinch both this series as well as the season series with a win tomorrow in the second of three games in Arlington. Mike Fiers (14-4, 3.97 ERA) will look to get back on track after Mondays debacle in Houston. The Rangers will counter with a stiff challenge from their own ace, lefty Mike Minor (13-8, 3.08 ERA).