OAKLAND — Jake Smolinski packed a week’s worth of drama into the ninth inning Friday night.
First, he thought he made a game-clinching catch in the top of the ninth only to have it overturned on a replay reversal. In the bottom half, his single helped usher along a two-out rally that resulted in the A’s 3-2 walk-off victory over the Angels.
It wound up being an uplifting win for the A’s, just their third in their past 12 one-run games. And it was only fitting that Smolinski and the outfielder playing next to him in center, Billy Burns, were central characters.
With a runner on first and one out, the A’s leading 2-1 in the top of the ninth, the Angels’ Daniel Nava sent a liner toward the gap in right-center. Smolinski dove and appeared to make a fantastic catch. Then he threw to first for an apparent double play, as base runner Todd Cunningham had already rounded second and appeared to get doubled off.
“Initially I thought I caught the ball,” Smolinski said afterward. “I went over to Burnsie and said ‘What did it look like to you?’”
Burns had a great view of the play, and the replays that were shown on the JumboTron showed Smolinski had clearly trapped the ball. Burns didn’t want to burst Smolinski’s bubble.
“He came over to me all excited, and I didn’t say anything,” Burns explained with a straight face. “Then he asked me directly, ‘I caught it, right?’ And I said ‘No.”
Officials in the replay command center in New York ruled that runners should be placed on the corners, and the Angels immediately tied the game on Johnny Giavotella’s sacrifice fly.
But instead of wilting after that costly overturn, the down-on-their-luck A’s responded with a two-out rally to win it in the bottom of the ninth. Marcus Semien drew a walk off Fernando Salas. Then with Angels outfielders playing nearly at the warning track to prevent extra bases, Smolinski dropped a single into right that moved Semien to third. Burns then slapped the first pitch he saw into left field for a game-winning single.
“The guys were pretty spirited in the dugout going into that (half) inning,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Now we have two outs, nobody on, and Smolinski has his second good at-bat of the night, and we’re in a good position to win. … A lot of credit to the guys fighting all the way to the last out.”
Burns, after getting the celebratory bucket of water dumped on him by Yonder Alonso, made an astute point while addressing reporters.
“The real hero tonight was Kendall Graveman,” Burns said. “He was awesome tonight.”
Indeed, Graveman should have gotten a ‘W’ after throwing seven innings of three-hit ball and allowing just one run. It was the best start of the season for the right-hander, and it was timely. In the coming weeks, the A’s expect to welcome back starters Sean Manaea and Rich Hill from the disabled list. Henderson Alvarez could also be activated from the D.L. as soon as next week, and he would also join the rotation. So it behooves Graveman, who started the night with a 5.28 ERA, to string some strong outings together to remain among the starting five.
“The best we’ve seen him yet,” Melvin said. “And I think he found out if he throws his sinker in the zone, as long as it’s down, he can get a lot of ground balls. He got a lot of ground balls, and that’s vintage Kendall.”