Oakland Athletics Win Behind Rich Hill

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May 23, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Oakland Athletics catcher Stephen Vogt (21) hits a solo home run against the Seattle Mariners during the seventh inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
May 23, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Oakland Athletics catcher Stephen Vogt (21) hits a solo home run against the Seattle Mariners during the seventh inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Oakland Athletics, behind the stellar pitching of Rich Hill, managed to defeat the first place Seattle Mariners on Monday night.

On Monday, Rich Hill became the first Oakland Athletics starter to last more than seven innings in the 2016 season. Indeed, it was the first time in 83 games that an A’s starting pitcher went out for the eighth inning. Manager Bob Melvin‘s decision to send Hill out for the eighth was made a lot easier by the fact that the A’s scored four unearned runs in the top of the eighth.

Sometimes it is easy to get stuck focusing on the flaws of your own team. It was good to see the Seattle Mariners muck up this game instead. In the bottom of the second, the M’s used three cheap singles to load the bases with no outs. Seattle had won four in a row and it seemed like everything was going their way.

Then Hill struck out Chris Iannetta, and got Nori Aoki to ground out weakly to first. Yonder Alonso came home with the throw for the second out. Hill completed his Houdini act by striking out Chris Taylor. It was so good to see the opposing team hoping for a simple sacrifice fly or a clutch base hit.

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It looked like Stephen Vogt‘s seventh-inning home run was going to be the only run of the game. But then Seattle had a couple defensive lapses and the A’s scored four unearned runs in the eighth. The Mariner’s bullpen self-immolated. With one run in and the bases loaded, manager Scott Servais brought in Vidal Nuno to pitch to Vogt. Nuno promptly hit Vogt with a pitch to bring in another run.

Then Servais went to Joel Peralta to pitch to Danny Valencia. On the first pitch from Peralta, Valencia slammed a two run double. Lack of clutch hitting, errors at shortstop, and a complete bullpen collapse… It was so nice to see that happening to someone other than the A’s.

A couple players came through in Monday night’s game. After Taylor’s first error in the eighth, Marcus Semien was standing at second representing a “gift run.” Chris Coghlan struck out without getting the runner over. It was frustrating, but Tijuan Walker was throwing 95 mph with an effortless delivery. That brought Jake Smolinski to the plate.

I’ll admit, I was thinking, “These Triple A players are just over-matched by big league pitching.” Then on a 2-2 pitch, Smolinski ripped an RBI single to left-center field. I was happy to be proven wrong.

Yonder Alonso is another player who deserves a little recognition. His play at first base is smooth as silk. In the second, Aoki grounded the ball down to Alonso. Alonso fielded the ball easily. He did not try to do to much. He did not swipe at the hitter dashing down the first base line. He didn’t look to second to try to start an impossible double play. He did not panic or rush his throw. Alonso just calmly threw home for an easy force out.

A couple innings later, Alonso saved Semien from an error by making a nifty tag on an off-line throw. Even in the ninth with a five-run lead, Alonso and Semien turned a 3-6-3 double play that was a thing of beauty. Yes, the A’s are leading the majors with 38 errors. Despite that stat, the A’s are playing much better defense this year. Alonso is a big part of that.

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The A’s are going to need pitching, defense, and clutch-hitting to have any success this year. They got all three on Monday night. Let’s hope they keep it going behind Kendall Graveman on Tuesday.

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