OAKLAND – Before they could execute a game-winning rally Sunday, the A’s first had to believe.
And for all the criticism one could justifiably heap on this team, the desire to make a comeback should never be questioned.
The A’s took their fans – and themselves – on a roller coaster of emotion Sunday before pulling out a 5-4 victory over the Houston Astros that required not one, but two late-inning scoring flurries.
They scored twice in the eighth to take the lead. They gave up three in the top of the ninth to trail. Then they scored twice in the bottom of the ninth to win.
OK, so the three major trades they made before July 31 signaled the white flag on contending. But this team still knows how to do drama.
“There's a lot of fight in here still, and that's nice to see,” third baseman Danny Valencia said.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Valencia delivers walk-off, A's beat Astros]
Valencia’s impact since donning green and gold can’t be overstated. Not only did he deliver the walk-off single in the ninth, he homered earlier in the game and is 7-for-16 (.438) with two homers and five RBI since being claimed off waivers after the Blue Jays designated him for assignment.
“We got a gift-wrapped present from Toronto,” starting pitcher Chris Bassitt said. “My goodness. How he got DFA’d is shocking to every single person on this team, including coaches. I don't know how we got him, I really don't.”
Manager Bob Melvin said Valencia’s back was acting up Sunday. After the A’s claimed a 3-1 lead in the eighth, the dilemma was whether to insert Eric Sogard at second and shift Brett Lawrie to third, or keep Valencia in at third for his bat. Melvin chose the latter.
“He’s carried us for the better part of this homestand,” right fielder Josh Reddick said. “Nobody had driven in a run it seemed like for four days except for him.”
But what truly keyed Sunday’s win were the contributions of many. Billy Burns and Reddick had run-scoring hits in the go-ahead rally of the eighth, but only after Marcus Semien went the opposite way with a single to move Josh Phegley around to third. Reddick tied the game with a single and Valencia won it in the ninth, but only after Mark Canha hustled out an infield single to short and Phegley followed with a single of his own.
“The play that’s gonna be overlooked in that ninth inning is Canha starting it off, hustling his butt down the line,” Reddick said.
Sunday’s win not only allowed the A’s to take three out of four from AL West-leading Houston, it clinched a winning record (6-5) on their longest homestand of the season. Now they head to Toronto for three games, setting up a couple juicy storylines. The Blue Jays are the majors’ hottest team, having won eight in a row, and Valencia returns to face the team that cut him loose Aug. 1. Toronto, so active in adding players before the trade deadline, needed to clear roster space, and Valencia was designated for assignment.
Another storyline, and it’s an ongoing one – what will the A’s do with the closer spot? Edward Mujica, after getting a save Saturday, entered in the ninth Sunday with a 3-1 lead and gave up two singles and a three-run homer to Colby Rasmus before leaving to a chorus of boos. Melvin called his ninth-inning relief situation “fluid.”
“(Mujica) just said he didn’t feel like he had it today,” said Phegley, who was catching. “He felt OK, he just didn’t have a lot of movement and his pitches weren’t as sharp. But as a guy that we count on every day, you’re going to have days like that. I’m not worried about it. I just told him, ‘We got your back.’ We bailed him out.”
The A's activated reliever Taylor Thompson (shoulder injury) from the 60-day disabled list and optioned him to Triple-A Nashville. The significance of the move, for now, is that it maxes out the team's 40-man roster.