This was the scene that A’s manager Bob Melvin surely had envisioned coming out of spring training.
Tyler Clippard walking off the mound to accept congratulations after closing out a victory. It played out Monday night at Minute Maid Park, as the A’s beat the Astros 2-1 in a game that unfolded according to script in regards to Oakland’s bullpen.
Didn’t it seem this was a team that would have to pull out low-scoring games in 2015? After trading away three All-Star hitters in the offseason, the A’s looked like a team that would have to lean on its pitching staff, including a deep bullpen, to have success.
But things have gone awry so far, with the relievers struggling as a group to get outs in the late innings, and no one really settling into set roles.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Lawrie, bullpen help A's snap four-game skid]
Clippard? He took the ball for just his fifth save opportunity Monday – in the A’s 40th game. He had that opportunity because of the standout work turned in by those before him. After starter Drew Pomeranz left with shoulder tightness in the fifth, Edward Mujica, Evan Scribner and Clippard combined for 4 2/3 no-hit innings, striking out six and walking just one. Houston’s final 11 batters went down in order.
Of course, the ‘pen had some assistance. Center fielder Sam Fuld turned in a sensational catch in the bottom of the eighth, climbing the grassy incline in deep center and robbing George Springer with a snow-cone catch as he banged into the wall to the left of the 436-foot sign. That kept the speedy Springer from winding up on second or third representing the tying run with no outs.
“That’s probably the best play I’ve ever had made for me, and the hardest hit ball off me, all on the same pitch,” Scribner said.
Tal’s Hill -- the name for the center field slope, in honor of former Astros president Tal Smith -- was inspired by the outfield slope found in many ballparks early in the 20th century, including Crosley Field in Cincinnati. But while Crosley’s left field incline was built at a 15-degree angle, Tal’s Hill is steeper at 30 degrees.
“You see Sammy running his heart out,” Scribner said. “He gets to the hill, (and) I see so many guys get to the hill and just fall down. It’s something they’ve never done before.”
So the A’s opened this seven-game road trip on a high note, winning a one-run game for just the second time in 15 attempts. The only potential dark cloud was Pomeranz’s premature exit. He was diagnosed with soreness in the AC joint, and the A’s will probably have more information Tuesday.
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Now the task for the A’s, and it’s been a difficult one, is to string two victories together. They’ve done it just once so far this season. They at least have the right guy on the mound Tuesday in ace Sonny Gray.
For at least one night, the A’s could sleep well, snapping a four-game losing streak and watching their bullpen perform as envisioned.
“It was a great day for us,” Scribner said.