OAKLAND – The A’s can’t seem to figure out Mike Trout. And just when they thought they had Josh Hamilton under control, the former MVP rediscovered his power stroke in the nick of time to lead the Angels to a 5-4 victory in eleven innings and a series win.
Trout connected for the only hit off A.J. Griffin in six innings, a two-run home run in the first, and Hamilton handed A’s closer Grant Balfour just his third blown save of the season with a game-tying bomb in the ninth.
Trout’s towering drive was his third of the three-game set and fifth of the season series. The reigning Rookie of the Year now owns a slash line of .306/.380/.677 in 15 games against the A’s this season.
A’s manager Bob Melvin wasn’t in the mood to wax poetic about Trout’s terrorization of his team.
“He’s got probably five home runs everywhere,” Melvin said. “He hits a lot of homers.”
Griffin, who has allowed a league-leading 35 home runs this season, including Trout’s first-inning shot, was equally simplistic when asked about pitching to the phenom.
“Fastball that caught too much plate,” Griffin said. “He’s good at baseball.”
That curt compliment used to be a regular explanation for Hamilton’s unique talent, but the former Ranger has struggled since signing a $125 million deal with the Angels last offseason. The A’s have held Hamilton to a .203/.214/.297 slash line, which includes 17 strikeouts in 64 at-bats.
With the A’s ahead 4-2 in the ninth, Hamilton took an 0-for-3 to the plate to face Balfour as the potential game-tying run. The rage-inspiring closer with 38 saves this season left an 0-1 fastball over the plate that Hamilton sent over the wall in right.
Balfour left the A’s clubhouse before it was open to the media so he didn’t provide an opportunity to hold himself accountable for the blown save. His manager did his talking for him instead.
“If you look at it overall, three blown saves is going to work anywhere,” Melvin said. “And I think he did have good stuff today, he just got one fastball probably not in the right spot to a pretty good fastball hitter.”
Hamilton hasn’t showcased the same bat speed he used to have in quite some time, which was never more evident than when he struck out for the seventh time in 11 at-bats against A’s reliever Jerry Blevins on Tuesday night.
On Wednesday afternoon, Hamilton got another shot against Blevins with the go-ahead run 90 feet away in the eleventh inning and delivered. He chased two curveballs to go down 0-2, but Blevins threw one more hook that Hamilton got enough wood on for a sacrifice fly to score Angels leadoff man J.B. Shuck.
“He just didn’t make his pitch at 0-2,” Melvin said. “Location-wise, he didn’t get it where he wanted to.”
“We played a good, hard game,” Griffin said. “They got the big hit when they needed to. That’s just how it goes in baseball.”
Hamilton’s RBI came moments after Jesse Chavez got Trout to hit a shallow fly ball that kept Shuck at third. Shuck had led off the inning with a double and advanced to third on Erick Aybar’s sacrifice bunt that led to no outs when Josh Donaldson bobbled the ball.
It’s never easy to play the ‘What if?’ game, but Hamilton’s sacrifice fly would have been a routine fly ball for the third out if Donaldson didn’t commit his 15th error of the season.
“He just couldn’t get it out of his glove,” Melvin said. “He called [Chavez] off, he was in good position, he did everything right, just bobbled the ball. He’s a great defender and usually clutch as the game goes along as well.”
Donaldson, who got pied after lining a bases-loaded single to win Tuesday’s game, was hard on himself as he faced the music at his locker.
“I just came in on it a little too aggressively and my feet weren’t really underneath me,” Donaldson said. “It’s one of those plays that I have to make and I expect to make it every time, it was just one of those fluke kind of plays. I just wasn’t able to do it today.”
But Donaldson’s hero-to-goat experience over the last 24 hours only makes it easier for him to put what happened Wednesday in his rear-view mirror.
“I think we just have a resilient group of guys here,” Donaldson said. “I feel like we play quality baseball just about every day. We really try not to let the past affect us too much and just move forward and continue to play the same way that we’ve been playing all year.”
Melvin was equally optimistic that one tough September loss won’t bring his surging team down.
“We’ve had some tough losses this year and we’ve had dramatic wins so you just put this one away, come back tomorrow, and expect to win again.”