Bob Melvin walked by Liam Hendriks, after his closer had struck out the last three men he’d faced to close out the Chicago White Sox, catapulting the A’s into the next round of the American League playoffs and said just one word:
“HercuLiam,” the Oakland manager said.
OK, maybe Melvin said “Herculean,” after spending four hours, nine minutes to nail this one down, but Hendriks heard what he heard.
Hendricks, who has gone from a pitcher the A’s designated for assignment to one the A’s believe is the best closer in the game, wants that as a T-shirt.
He’ll probably get it, too, but for the moment, having pitch the A’s out of the wild card round and into the best-of-five American League Division Series in Los Angeles starting Monday will suffice. Hendriks had seen A’s teams, good A’s team, bounced by the Yankees and the Rays the last two years in the one-and-done wild card.
The A’s lost the first game to the White Sox on Tuesday, but following the advice of reliever J.B. Wendelken, they got angry and took Games 2 and 3.
“So, apparently, we’re just not good at the first game,” Hendriks said, breaking into a grin, although it was hard to tell through his mask. “Getting that opportunity after that first game to come back and be ourselves. That just shows the ability we have to bounce back no matter what happens about the ability to come out and whatever happens today, we’ll brush it off and come back again.”
The win washed away a decade and a half of bad memories and inconsistent postseason performances, but it did not come easily. Even Hendriks’ part, the scoreless ninth inning, only came after he’d given up a leadoff single to bring the tying run to the plate.
True to form, Hendriks just kept throwing gas, and he struck out the final three men he faced to get the A’s into a properly socially isolated celebrations in the clubhouse.
The celebration included putting into a net on a golf green, a replacement for the basketball net that was last year’s idée fixe in the Oakland clubhouse.
“It was the second time I’ve done the putt totally in the nude.”
When that was brought up to infielder Chad Pinder, whose two-run, bases-loaded single to left in the fifth inning broke a 4-4 tie and finished up the scoring, he blushed and deferred on the whole putting thing except to say that “nobody made one.”
Pinder was not in the A’s starting lineup. But there was a good chance he’d play given that the White Sox manager, Rick Rentaria, decided to for a bullpen game, throwing pitchers out, left and right, whenever he could. The Sox would go through nine pitchers in eight innings with varying levels of success.
One such change came in the third inning, when Pinder hit for third baseman Jake Lamb and singled, loading the bases. The A’s didn’t score, but they would load the bases again and again until they did.
In the fourth inning, with the White Sox seeming to hold a comfortable 3-0 lead, Sean Murphy changed the entire dynamic of the game with a two-run, two-out homer. Before the inning was over, Rentaria would go through three of his nine pitchers, and the last of them, Matt Foster, would deliver bases-loaded walks to Mark Canha to tie the game and to Matt Olson to put Oakland ahead, 4-3.
The lead slipped away with starter-turned-reliever Frankie Montas, who’d thrown 113 pitches on Sunday, in his second inning of work giving up a two-out RBI single.
The A’s showed resilience, however, loading the bases with two out for Pinder. He had played just one game in the last two weeks of the season, that being on Sunday, because of a hamstring injury that is better, but not great.
This time he delivered a grounder to left that got through the infield, scoring Murphy and Tommy La Stella with the two runs that gave the A’s a little breathing room.
Pinder had been on those teams that had lost in 2018 and 2019. This win meant a great deal.
“The season is what it is,” Pinder said. “Once we got to the postseason, that’s a whole other matter. Really. I’m just grateful for the opportunity and proud, proud of this team and really looking forward to the next part of this.”
Easy breathing wouldn’t come for a while after Pinder’s single, however. With Lou Trivino pitching in the seventh, an error and a hit batter gave the Sox life, and Jake Diekman walked the first man he faced out of the bullpen, loading the bases. But Adam Engel was induced to ground out, and the Sox were turned away.
In the eighth, Joakim Soria issued a single to Tim Anderson and a walk, bringing up RBI champ Abreu again. This time Soria got the better of the deal, getting Abreu to bounced to Marcus Semien to begin a double play.
Someday the A’s will look back on this win and realize the Sox bought Abreu, the Major League RBI leader with 60 in 60 games, to the plate with a total of six men on base on Thursday, and they turned him away each time.
That got the A’s to the ninth and Hendriks, who had been mauled Wednesday in trying to get the game’s final six outs. Before it was over, Diekman had to bail him out, getting the final out. Hendriks had thrown 49 pitches, and still “there’s never a time I don’t want the ball.”
James McCann singled up the middle to open the ninth, and with the tying run now at the plate, it seemed Hendriks was up against it. He struck out the next three, including Luis Robert, who had accounted for half of the Chicago offense with a single and a homer.
Hendriks’ last pitch, a 98-mph fastball up in the strike zone, caught Nomar Mazara looking to end the game.
“I redeemed myself up for yesterday,” Hendriks said. “That wasn’t my best foot forward (Wednesday), but now we have a couple of days off and head over to Los Angeles.”
Heading over instead of heading home.
It’s a new day in Oakland.
Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3
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