SEATTLE – It’s too early to get excited about where the A’s are in the standings, but it isn’t premature to stress the importance of what took place over the weekend in Seattle.
The A’s capped off a three-game sweep of the Mariners with a 2-1 victory Sunday, and they had to board their team charter feeling good on various fronts.
They pulled out a 10-inning win on a day that Mariners ace Felix Hernandez exhibited his Cy Young form of the past. They witnessed the re-emergence of Coco Crisp as an impact player atop their batting order. They also put behind them a sluggish start on their season-opening homestand – when they dropped three of four to the White Sox – by ringing up their first road sweep of the Mariners since Sept. 7-9, 2012.
“We have a group that is very, very positive, it’s very refreshing,” starting pitcher Chris Bassitt said. “That’s why we don’t snowball losses. Last year we just couldn’t get out of our own way. I feel mostly it was just mental and everything was absolutely negative. This year, this group doesn’t care.”
The A’s return home from their first road trip of 2016 alone in first place in the American League West at 4-3. And though it’d be laughable to celebrate that factoid just one week into the regular season, understand the A’s spent just nine days alone or tied for first all of last season, and none after April 18.
Sunday’s matinee easily could have been a throwaway game, with Hernandez mowing down hitters and the A’s content to pack their bags knowing they took two out of three on the road against a division rival. Instead, they rallied against Seattle’s reconstructed bullpen, getting a game-tying homer from Marcus Semien in the eighth and the go-ahead shot from Crisp in the top of the 10th.
The contributions of Crisp in the past two days can’t be overstated. Generally healthy since the start of spring training, the 36-year-old outfielder is showing life in his game that wasn’t there in his lost season of 2015, when he played in just 44 games because of neck, elbow and wrist injuries.
He stole two bases and scored twice Saturday, then turned on a 3-1 pitch from Nick Vincent in the 10th on Sunday and homered for the first time since Aug. 27, 2014. At his best, Crisp provides both speed and power from the leadoff spot, and if he stays 100 percent he’s sure to continue getting playing time, whether it’s sharing center with Billy Burns, playing some left field or serving as DH.
He has a bulging disc in his neck that is a chronic issue, but Crisp and the A’s training staff have the situation under control right now, and it’s allowing the switch hitter to drive the ball better from the left side.
“Last year I couldn’t even turn my neck,” Crisp said. “I switched my stance up. Now I’m back to my old stance because I can, and hopefully things just keep going in the right direction. It just feels normal. When you try to switch things up, especially later in your career when you’re so accustomed to hitting a certain way, it makes it tough. Hopefully I can continue to be in this state of health where I can be myself.”
Bassitt was game for matching up with Hernandez, throwing seven innings of three-hit ball and allowing just an unearned run in the sixth, when Jed Lowrie’s two-out error brought home a run to give Seattle a 1-0 lead. But a constant all series was the stellar work of Oakland’s bullpen.
The A’s relief corps combined pitched 10 2/3 innings without allowing a single run in the series, as Oakland held the Mariners to four runs all weekend.
Ryan Madson, John Axford and Sean Doolittle each threw a scoreless inning Sunday, with Doolittle notching his first save after Madson handled the first two save opportunities of the season.
“We have arms that we didn’t have last year,” Bassitt said. “When it’s bullpen versus bullpen, I really like our chances.”
Hernandez struck out 10 over seven innings, but he left after 99 pitches. Joel Peralta took the mound for the top of the eighth and Semien drove a 3-2 pitch over the wall in left to tie the game.
“That’s huge,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Felix comes out of the game, and it almost feels like there’s momentum in your dugout just with him out of the game.”