Between the sixth and seventh innings Wednesday, with the A’s down 7-4 to the Astros and facing elimination from the American League Division Series, Ramón Laureano called a timeout.
He gathered as many of the A’s as he could find–in these socially distanced times, that’s not everybody–and delivered a short succinct message.
The season wasn’t over.
It turned out to be the pivotal moment in Game 3 of the ALDS. Chad Pinder would hit a three-run homer – Oakland’s first hit with a runner in scoring position in the series – in the seventh and Sean Murphy and Pinder would add sacrifice flies in the eighth. That production, combined with closer Liam Hendriks going full Rollie Fingers to get the final nine outs of the game, gave the A’s a 9-7 win that kept Oakland’s season alive for at least another 24 hours.
“Right before that inning, Ramón got everybody up and got everybody fired up, saying this wasn’t it,” Pinder said. “We talked about how when we scored, it seemed like they scored back. They punched us back and we hadn’t been able to respond. Ramón kind of nipped that in the bud.
“When we got into the dugout and we were down again, we kind of got that same flat-line feeling. Ramón was having no part of that, absolutely no part of that. He said that we weren’t going to let this be our last game.”
Marcus Semien opened the seventh with a single, Tommy La Stella singled him to third, and in stepped Pinder against Josh James. He said he was glad that he wasn’t the first batter of the inning, because Laureano’s speech had him so fired up. Pinder, trying to get a fly ball that would score a run, got a fly ball that would soar beyond the grasp of right fielder Kyle Tucker.
Manager Bob Melvin called it “an earthquake,” one that wrested the momentum of the game away from the Astros.
“I just told [Laureano] in the clubhouse that he put me in the zone a little bit,” Pinder said. “I told him, 'Man, you stuck a chord with me.’ I get chills thinking about it, but you know, we needed that.”
The A’s had six leads in the first three games of the series, including leads of 1-0 and 4-2 on Wednesday, slip away. Facing elimination, they needed something.
Laureano didn’t just talk. In the eighth, after Robbie Grossman worked Blake Taylor for a walk, the center fielder flipped a double down the right field line. The A’s then played small ball for the first time in the series with the Murphy and Pinder sacrifice flies.
“We haven’t gotten a bunch of those,” Melvin said of the double Laureano looped down the right field line. “Now you feel like you have a good chance to score. And we have Liam in the game already. Those [sacrifice flies] ended up being huge hits. Maybe they weren’t 100 mph off the bat like some of the other balls that were hit today, but they were just as effective.”
From that point, Hendriks took over. He’d had an easy 1-2-3 seventh, but a Carlos Correa single and a phantom catcher’s interference call against Murphy saw the Astros put the tying runs on base to start the eighth. Hendriks got a pop fly and a grounder that moved both runners into scoring position before he struck out former A’s outfielder Josh Reddick.
Reddick was so upset with his rally-killing strikeout that he broke his bat on his way back to the Houston dugout.
Hendriks then had a quiet bottom of the ninth to secure the win, throwing a total of 37 pitches to earn the win.
The finish was quite a turnaround for the A’s, who had four homers, all solo shots, in the first five innings but who then saw the Astros rack up five hits and five runs in the fifth to seem to take control of the game.
Then Laureano, who came to the A’s in a deal with the Astros after the 2017 season, spoke up, and everything changed.
Hendriks was busy warming up at the time Laureano called the team together, so he wasn’t there for it. The closer wasn’t surprised it was Laureano, who was involved a brawl with the Astros in August that led to a suspension after he’d been hit by a pitch, who spoke up.
“Obviously with his history of being traded from that organization and with everything that happened earlier in the year, I’m not surprised,” Hendriks said. “He’s a very emotional guy. He kind of vibes off that kind of tight line of being aggressive and energetic and everything that goes along with that.”
And the A’s live to fight another day.
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