SEATTLE — The A’s seemed to thrive off the intensity of Saturday night’s 9-8 victory at Safeco Field, and Marcus Semien only hopes it was a glimpse of what the future holds for his team.
“That’s what we want to play in front of,” Semien said afterward. “That’s a playoff atmosphere. That’s what we want to get to one day. We’ve got a lot of work to do to get to that point, but to see the excitement, the way we played tonight, that crowd … It was different than we played all season. That could be the future for us.”
Oakland’s 10-inning victory over Seattle knocked the Mariners out of postseason contention. It came in front of a rabid, towel-waving crowd that sensed the chance for the Mariners to move a step closer to securing a Wild Card berth Sunday. The A’s dashed those hopes thanks to a relentless offensive barrage, and the man getting it started from the leadoff spot was Semien. He and No. 9 hitter Joey Wendle both had four-hit nights, bookending a lineup that cranked out 16 hits and scored its most runs since plating 11 on Sept. 17.
Semien began this season as the biggest of question marks. Coming off a 2015 campaign in which he set an A’s record with 35 errors in his first season as an everyday big league shortstop, he has shown major strides with the glove. Offensively, he developed into one of the game’s biggest threats at his position.
He enters Sunday’s season finale tied for the major league lead among shortstops with 27 homers, also tied for fourth most by a shortstop in franchise history. Is Semien proud of that accomplishment? No doubt, but he talked before the game of the developing he still needs to do. He sees his .233 batting average and .297 on-base percentage and knows those need to improve.
He also wants to make teams pay more for the shifts they employ against him.
“I want to be able to hit that hole (on the right side) when they’re shifting me,” Semien said. “Get my average up. Sometimes I’m trying to force it over there and it leads to foul balls. Just be able to hone in on that, be able to hit the ball up the middle, the other way. That’ll open things up for me.”
He did a nice job of that as part of Saturday’s 4-for-6 night, which included a laser of a double to right-center in the fourth, the kind of opposite-field hitting that Semien spoke of.
Defensively, the tireless daily work Semien has done with infield coach Ron Washington paid dividends this season. He’s reduced that error total drastically, from 35 to 21. That still leads major league shortstops, but the 26**-year-old Semien is now making most of the plays that should be routine, actually become routine. And his work ethic and pregame regimen has provided a template for the A’s other infielders.
“Well, I threw the ball better this year,” Semien said. “I think I’ve probably made more fielding (errors) than throwing. I’d rather have it that way. You want to be able to throw the ball with some zip across the diamond at all times.”
Washington praised Semien’s defensive improvement. And although he says the pregame drills will continue next season, Washington added: “Going into next year, Marcus will be on his own. Meaning, I’m gonna allow him to make his mistakes and correct his own mistakes. It’s time for him to become his own teacher, because everything he needs, he has now.”
Last year around this time, Billy Beane, the A’s top baseball official, didn’t shut the door on the possibility of Semien moving off shortstop, perhaps shifting to the outfield, if one of Oakland’s highly touted shortstop prospects forced their way to the bigs. But he’s shown enough improvement to suggest that when a player such as shortstop Franklin Barreto (the A’s top prospect) arrives, Barreto may just have to break in at a different spot.
“He’s our shortstop,” manager Bob Melvin said definitively of Semien. “Even when I try to give him an off-day. he doesn’t wanna get ‘Wally Pipp’ed'. One of the reasons, the motivation, to be out there every day is to keep your job. He’s very durable, plays hurt. He’s pretty focused and intent on keeping that position for a long time.”