OAKLAND — Yonder Alonso said there’s no extra satisfaction making a great defensive play to rob Orioles third baseman Manny Machado.
His smile suggested otherwise.
Of several great plays the A’s first baseman turned in during Monday’s 3-2 win over Baltimore, the prettiest was an over-the-head catch of Machado’s foul pop in the third inning, a play Alonso made on the run as he navigated a huge patch of the Coliseum’s expansive foul territory.
Never mind that the pop-out went for a sacrifice fly as J.J. Hardy tagged and scored on the play. It kept Machado, an American League MVP candidate who hit three homers a day earlier, from doing bigger damage with the bases loaded.
It also gave Alonso some bragging rights over his brother-in-law. Machado is married to Alonso’s sister, Yainee, so it makes for an interesting family reunion anytime Alonso and Machado take the field against each other.
“I treat everybody the same … Ha-ha,” Alonso said afterward.
So often when starting pitcher Kendall Graveman is at his best, the A’s defense is right in sync behind him. The right-hander had his sinker in strong form, but manager Bob Melvin said Graveman also featured his best cutter of the season to go along with an effective breaking ball and change-up when he needed it.
The result was a whopping 14 ground-ball outs of the 21 Graveman recorded in seven innings of one-run ball. That gave lots of opportunities for his infielders. Third baseman Ryan Healy converted one of the most unusual plays of the season. As the Orioles’ Jonathan Schoop shattered his bat on a grounder to the left side, Healy side-stepped a piece of the bat hurling at him, made a bare-hand pick of the grounder and threw to first for the out.
“I don’t know that you can make a better play than that,” Melvin said. “(The bat) was going right at him, and he’s got to dodge it and then he bare-hands it and makes a throw on the run. That’s as good a play as we’ve seen him make.”
Healy’s play was special to behold because of the rare circumstances. Coco Crisp’s running catch as he crashed into the center field wall in the second will land him on highlight shows.
Alonso’s exceptional glove work all season has been more subtle, not garnering a ton of attention simply because it’s been a daily constant. Not only does he excel at scooping short-hops, he’s quite a weapon for the A’s as a fielder. He hit the dirt for a diving backhand stop of Pedro Alvarez’s grounder in the fourth, then made a nifty bare-hand grab and flip to Graveman on Hyun-Soo Kim’s bouncer in the fifth.
A’s closer Ryan Madson said Alonso’s presence gives him confidence throwing inside to lefties because he doesn’t fear them pulling hard shots to the right side. He knows there’s a good chance Alonso will gobble them up.
“Especially from that corner, you don’t expect much other than just to catch the ball when they throw it to you,” Madson said. “It’s a huge bonus.”
Machado stayed at Alonso’s house in Alamo Sunday night. Did the two ever have lots to talk about after Machado hit three homers in his first three at-bats against the Chicago White Sox Sunday afternoon.
“He’s one of the elite players in the game, so it’s definitely a lot of fun to watch, and just to hang out with him for three or four days,” Alonso said.
A’s catcher Stephen Vogt, who homered and drove in two runs Monday, has developed an appreciation for Alonso’s defense as he’s watched the first baseman during his first season in Oakland.
“I don’t know what all these sabermetrics or whatever are, runs saved …” Vogt said. “He better be up there, because he’s some kind of good over there at first base. I’ve never seen anybody better. Maybe there’s some as good, but there’s nobody better. He’s incredible over there.”