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9:22AM

One of 162, but for A’s — in 14 innings — one of a kind

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — It was just one of 162 games, but one of a kind. One that lasted seemingly forever. One the Oakland Athletics could have lost — and should have lost. But one to be remembered.

The long season. That’s baseball, but what also is baseball is one game that shows a team’s courage, a team’s ability, a team’s determination. For the A’s, that game very well may have been Wednesday afternoon, in front of a Coliseum crowd that was too small but with a result that was oh so big.

The numbers are remarkable, more than 500 pitches, more than five hours — in fact, at 5:48 very close to six — 49 players used, 14 innings played.

But the number that mattered most was one, the differential that the A’s — once behind 6-1, if early — and trailing most of the game, had in beating the Chicago White Sox, 12-11.

The ultimate run, with two out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 14th, with darkness approaching, with a position player, Jake Smolinski, warming up in the bullpen because Oakland was out of pitchers, was driven in on a single by Matt Olson, scoring Marcus Semien from third.

A crowd that, including some 3,000 Science of Baseball Education students, was announced at 13,321 but had dwindled to maybe 500. After all, it was 6:25 p.m., long after the first pitch at 12:37.

“Take Me Out to the Ballgame” had been sung twice, in the seventh inning and again in the 14th.

“You come back, you use your entire bullpen, you’re one inning away from using a position player (to pitch),” said A’s manager Bob Melvin, “after fighting that hard, one game seems to mean a little more than the others. This is one of them.”

The night before, the A’s celebrated their 50th anniversary in Oakland, moving from Kansas City to start the 1968 season. The gates at the Coliseum figuratively were flung open. Tickets were free. Attendance was enormous, 48,592.

In a season of getting off the mat, of possible progress for a needed stadium, of re-grabbing the interest and success of the 1980s, even of the mid 2000s, that game was momentous. Unlike so much of the Athletics' struggle, it could not be ignored.

And yet it could be argued that from a standpoint of pure baseball, playing the game, no less significantly winning the game, the victory on Wednesday, in the afterglow of Tuesday's excitement, was more newsworthy.

In a virtual vacuum, with the talk about the Sharks and the Warriors, the A’s, apparently headed for a loss, instead swept the White Sox. Not a broom in sight.

“These games,” said Melvin. “I remember I was with the Diamondbacks, we went 18 innings in a 1-0 game at San Francisco. Guys get antsy as the game goes along. They really want to end it and have a tendency to want to be that guy. That’s why the games go on a little bit longer. You don’t have the typical approach. But we did in the last inning.”

With two out and no one on in the 14th, Semien, a Cal guy as is Melvin, singled to left. Jed Lowrie, who had hit a two-run homer in the eighth for a brief 11-10 Oakland lead, came to bat and Semien stole second. Then Lowrie walked and so did Khris Davis, loading the bases.

“In that situation,” Melvin reminded, “it doesn’t take a home run, just finding a patch of grass somewhere.”

That patch was in left field, and Olson, with his fourth hit, found it. Oakland had won its fourth straight.

“It was like a heavyweight fight,” said Olson. “We just kept trading blows the whole game until we found a way to put one across. I’d never been in a game that long. That was a good win for us.

“I had been feeling a little off at the plate and did some extra work in the morning. As the game went on, I started feeling better.”

He went with the pitch by James Shields, the starter forced to pitch relief, and instantly seemed to be swarmed by more teammates than there were people in the stands.

Among the elated was the man who hours before had been the A’s starter, Andrew Triggs, who lasted a mere one and a third innings, getting pummeled for six runs including a grand slam in the second by Yoan Moncada.

“I didn’t have any feel on my pitches and didn’t have command,” said Triggs. “That’s a bad combination. I put us in a hole for sure. I didn’t do my job. But there was a silver lining. We won the game, which hands down is the most important thing.”

Even if it takes a long 14 innings.

8:33AM

Piscotty shows what he can do for A’s

By Art Spander

MESA, Ariz. — This was Stephen Piscotty the ballplayer, the man talented enough to be picked in the first round of the major league draft. He still was the humanitarian, the loving son, helping nurse an ailing parent.

But for a short while, he could be viewed like any other big leaguer in spring training, for his performance.

The Piscotty story is sad and heartwarming. The St. Louis Cardinals traded him to the Athletics so he could be close to his mother, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the disease that struck Lou Gehrig in the late 1930s, and for whom it was labeled.

Piscotty came to bat Saturday with a man on in the second and hit a shot over the fence in left in a Cactus League game at Hohokam Stadium that Oakland eventually would lose to the San Diego Padres, 10-4.

It could be glossed over as just another of the many home runs in the desert during the exhibition schedule. Except it wasn’t. And Piscotty, 27, is not just another ball player, as you must be aware.

This was his first homer of the spring, his first, unofficial as it might be to many, since coming to the A’s in December. A trade that showed that big-time sport, all dollars and show, has a very human side.

“He takes good approach to hitting,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said of Piscotty. “This is spring training, but a home run like that with a new team makes it easier on yourself.”

For the past several months, since Piscotty’s mother, Gretchen, was diagnosed, nothing has been easy. With the loss of muscle control, she requires round-the-clock attention.

She has been attended to by Piscotty’s father, and his two younger brothers, and after the Cardinals consented to send him to Oakland — “That’s what makes the Cardinals one of the class organizations in sports,” A’s executive Billy Beane told the Bay Area News Group — and until spring training began, by Piscotty.

“I knew I’d be gone a few months,” Piscotty said, “but I’ll be back home, Before (at St. Louis) it would have been hard going into the season, leaving and not coming home for eight months.”

A’s management has always wanted Piscotty, who played his high school ball at Amador Valley, over the hills from Oakland, and then developed at Stanford. The opportunity to get him was serendipity.

Maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise that Piscotty would do well against the Padres. As a rookie in 2015, he hit two homers on a Sunday against them at Petco Park. Asked that day if it was his best game as a pro, he responded in classic understatement, “Probably.”

When home, Piscotty is back in the room he once shared with his brothers. “Although,” he said, chuckling, “they’re out of there now.”

Piscotty became engaged in February, and his fiancée helps at the family home. A bad situation, a terrible situation — there is no known cure for ALS, but Piscotty has helped create a fund for research — has become tolerable.

He is playing his sport, and for a team for which he cheered as a kid, and he has been able to reconnect with his mother.

"I thought, if I were to get traded, this is the absolute best option for me and my family," Piscotty told MLB.com after the transaction. "I think the best word that sums up a lot of our emotions is bittersweet. We're pretty emotionally tied and invested in [the Cardinals'] organization, so it's sad to kind of cut ties with that. But I think family comes first, obviously, and sometimes there are things more important than baseball.”

7:26PM

A’s Melvin: ‘We feel like it’s trending back up’

By Art Spander

MESA, Ariz. — The wall where players enter the clubhouse is lined with history, at least with posters of those who made history for the Oakland Athletics — Rickey Henderson, Dennis Eckersley, Catfish, Reggie, Rollie, and with those players who really who needs last names?

Oh, the glory days when the A’s were on top, not just on top of the Giants but all of baseball.

These, however, are the frustrating days, the days when every good player on the A’s — and they’ve had a ton — leaves, when Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick and Sonny Gray go to another team because Oakland cannot afford to keep them.

Bob Melvin has been through this from top to bottom as the A’s manager since June 2011, six and two-thirds seasons heading into 2018. Time flies, until the roster flies apart.

“The first three (seasons) went a lot quicker than the last three; we were, much more successful then,” said Melvin, confirming the obvious. “For us it’s difficult to trend up all the time when we have to get rid of some players.

“So the trend line went down. We feel like it’s trending back up. We like the younger group we have here right now. We’re excited about it. So after three difficult years, I’m looking forward to being with this group for a while — and hopefully it’s longer than one more year.”

Melvin, “Bo Mel” as we came to know him, the Menlo-Atherton High kid, the Cal guy, was sitting Sunday in the dugout at Hohokam Stadium, the Athletics’ spring home, a few minutes after Oakland and Kansas City played to one of those exhibition anomalies, a tie, 4-4 in this case. Hey, the Royals had to motor 45 miles west to Surprise, and the game already was only four minutes short of three hours. So, adios.

Which too often is what the A’s have said, figuratively, of course, to their stars. Now they have another group with potential to make it big, to make the A’s very good. One of those players, 6-foot-7 lefthander, A.J. Puk, pitched the first two innings. Didn’t allow anyone to reach base. Did allow Melvin to dream.

“What we saw last year,” said Melvin of Puk in spring 2017, the pitcher’s second season of pro ball, “today was even a better mix of pitches.”

Puk has added a two-seam fastball. Of the six batters he faced, four grounded out and one struck out. He threw only 20 pitches.

"Great command, great poise, throwing strikes, easy innings,” said Melvin, a former catcher. "I told (pitching coach Scott Emerson), 'Why are you taking him out?' He was only going to pitch two regardless, so off to a really good start.”

Puk is 22, from Iowa (yes, so was Bob Feller, but please, no comparisons) and went to the University of Florida. He’s learning. He’s improving. The A’s very well also might be improving. But then a key player is dispatched. Whoosh, gone.

“That’s one of the chief complaints,” Melvin conceded of the turnover of personnel. “Hopefully that all changes with the new ballpark. I know we’re still counting on that but just haven’t found a site yet.”

This is 50 years for the A’s in Oakland, and for almost the entire half-century, since they moved here from Kansas City before the 1968 season, since they won three World Series in a row in 1972-74, since they had their decent stadium, the Oakland Coliseum, horribly transformed for a football team now preparing to desert, there hung the question whether the team would belong to Oakland.

They were going to move to Portland. To Sacramento. To Las Vegas. To San Jose. They were as restless as a willow in a windstorm, to steal from Oscar Hammerstein.

Tarps covered seats, and in some years, such as 2016 when almost nobody in the infield could play defense properly, fans covered their eyes.

Spring training is for optimists. Every team is undefeated. Bob Melvin and the A’s have gone through good times and bad times. Maybe this time won’t be better, but the suspicion is it won’t be worse.

9:50PM

Dramatic A’s win, and now Coliseum belongs to Raiders

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — That’s it for baseball at Oakland. This year, at least. A dramatic conclusion, a successful end. Now the Coliseum will be in sole possession of the Raiders.

The pitching rubber was dug out almost before the before the ball Mark Canha smacked in the bottom of the ninth Wednesday cleared the left field fence.

The next day or two, the infield will disappear. No more dirt. No more ground balls. No more home runs. Until next spring.

Until baseball returns to the East Bay.

Before that, the merchants and politicians can debate the proposed A’s stadium near Lake Merritt that, knowing how things work in Nor Cal — or maybe that should be don’t work — might never be constructed.

Whatever, the ball club has been built — and disassembled and rebuilt — and with only four road games remaining this season of ’17, all against the Rangers, the A's seem destined to be considerably better in the years ahead. Depending on the whims and needs of the front office.

It’s a long season. We know that, 162 games, from the end of March until the end of September. Yet, it’s not the grind we remember, it’s the moments.

The little things. Franklin Barreto, sprinting around the bases in the third — “out of the box, running hard,”  said A’s manager Bob Melvin — a double and getting to third on an error. He would score on Jed Lowrie’s sacrifice fly.

The big things. Canha, a Cal guy as is Melvin, hitting his second walk-off of the year, on a 1-0 pitch in the last of the ninth that gave Oakland a 6-5 win over Seattle, which Melvin in so many words indicated was huge.

This had been a good month, September, 14-10 for an A’s team with a bad overall record, 72-85. But add a victory in each category.

”We had a lot of good things going, and then to get swept the last series at home ... ” sighed Melvin. Which, after dropping the first two games to Seattle and then losing a two-run, eighth-inning lead Wednesday, appeared a strong possibility.

Then Canha came to bat with one out, nobody on and the score tied, 5-5. He was 0-for-8 in the series. Wham. He was 1-for-9 and being swarmed at home plate by jubilant teammates.

“It was a fun way to end it,” he said.

An appropriate way to end it, according to Melvin. This was the A’s 11th walkoff win of the season (out of the 73 so far) and the eighth by a homer.

Yet Melvin didn’t approach it as enjoyment as much as relief.

“We’ve been consistent at home all year,” said Melvin, “and to get swept the last series would have been pretty disheartening. And of course we wanted to win for our home fans on this last day."

Few as there might have been, the announced attendance of 13,132 perhaps a bit misleading. But the gate was not the issue, the game result was.

Finale or not, it still was an autumn, midweek afternoon game against a team with talent but not much charisma. Maybe not even the Yankees or Red Sox would draw, given the particulars.

The A’s players found contentment in the score and their contribution.

“I had a tough series until (the home run),” said Canha. He’s from San Jose and Bellarmine Prep. After Cal, he was taken by the Miami Marlins, then chosen in the Rule 5 draft by Colorado, which traded him to Oakland for Austin House. Canha led the A’s in home runs in spring training 2015 and that year led all American League rookies in RBIs.

But 2016 brought hip surgery, and then this year he was optioned to Nashville April 15. He came back. In a big way, a walkoff home run in May, and now another.

“It happened so fast,” he said of the pitch from Shane Simmons and the swing that produced only his fifth homer of the year. “It’s been an up-and-down season for us as a team and for me personally. Nice to cap it off with that.”

Very, very nice.

8:03AM

One day, but a day of homers and brilliance for the A’s

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — Sometimes you have to take a day out of context, have to appreciate what happened in those few innings or few hours, forget about what it means in the great scheme of things, the standings, the record book, and revel in what happened.

At the Coliseum on maybe the warmest Saturday of the season — the temperature hit 80 — and for the Oakland Athletics unquestionably the most exciting, seemingly everything happened, from a ton of home runs to an 8-3 victory over the Red Sox that all but silenced all those expatriate New Englanders.

Fine pitching? Absolutely. From Oakland starter Sean Manea, who went five innings, allowed three runs and got the win (he’s now 2-3), and relievers Frankie Montas and Josh Smith, who extended the A’s bullpen streak of scoreless innings at home to 25.

Power hitting? Certainly. Four Oakland home runs, including one to dead center in the fifth by Chad Pinder that landed in the seats of the plaza level, some 460 feet away. He joins Mark McGwire, Larry Walker and Jarrett Parker to have landed balls there in the lower region of Mt. Davis since the area opened in 1996.

Consternation? Indeed. A’s manager Bob Melvin was angry after a ruling in the second on a ball that was thrown by Boston catcher Christian Vazquez (for an error) into the right field visitors bullpen. Everyone believed that Melvin argued because he wanted an extra base, but he said after being ejected by crew chief Mike Winters that he had another issue.

The A’s are last in the American League West. Boston is in the middle of the AL East. So this one didn’t exactly quite change the standings. But it was wonderful for entertainment, and isn’t that what we most demand of sports?

The Red Sox fans who once filled the Coliseum are not quite what they used to be, in numbers or voice. Game one of this four-game series Thursday night drew only around 14,000 people — a number that you might expect for the Rangers. The gate was 24,378 Friday night, but Saturday, as fine an afternoon as one could imagine, there were only 20,235. Did Red Sox Nation shrink?

Oakland had home runs by Jed Lowrie, Khris Davis, Mark Canha and that monster by Pinder. Well, shrugged Melvin, when the A’s are hitting, that’s their game. Especially when the weather is hot. Over the years, the cold nights in Oakland cost Reggie Jackson, Jose Canseco and McGwire so many chances on balls that were hit hard. But on a day like Saturday, everything takes off — as Melvin agreed.

”Everybody just sat up and watched,” said Manea. “We had a good time in the dugout. Never seen a ball hit as far as Pinder hit. He’s really built.”

Melvin said Pinder is no surprise, although he hardly expected that sort of shot. “Everybody raved about him,” Melvin said. “We just have to find a position for him.” On Saturday Pinder was the designated hitter — emphasis on the word hitter.

Pinder’s homer followed those of Canha and Khris Davis in a five-run A’s fifth. There were some walks and a single in the mix. What do we call these guys, the Lash Brothers?

"Day games, the ball carries a little more, but I don't know if any of them would have been affected," said Melvin. "It seems like they got longer and longer. Canha crushed that ball. K.D. (Khris Davis not Kevin Durant, Warriors fans), we've seen it, and the Pinder one, I don't even know how to explain that.

Neither does Pinder, but he doesn’t need to. "It's one of those swings where you kind of just black out," Pinder said. "You see it and you hit it, and you don't know what happens after."

What happens is the ball goes forever, and people who have seen it grab their head in disbelief. Including Khris Davis, who now has 13 homers himself.

"That was amazing," Davis said of the Pinder bomb. "He's got a great swing. That was impressive."

So, on this warm day of excitement and long balls, were the Oakland A’s.