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ANAHEIM – With the A’s heading into the postseason, Stephen Piscotty is in a nice groove, which might be what you’d expect from one of Oakland’s most “big-game” type players.
In his only at-bat of the day, Piscotty crushed a two-run homer off Matt Shoemaker in the second inning of the A’s regular-season finale Sunday at Angel Stadium. The Angels came back to win 5-4 by scoring three runs off Chris Hatcher in the ninth, with Taylor Ward providing a walkoff two-run shot to end it, and now the A’s fly to New York for the wild-card game.
“We know we have a challenge ahead of us but that’s when we play our best,” major-league home-run leader Khris Davis said as he packed his back for the team flight.
Piscotty, who hit a career-high 27 homers, could be a major key for Oakland in the wild-card game and beyond if the A’s advance: He’s got a great postseason track record, too, with three two-run homers in the Cardinals’ four-game division series against the Cubs in 2015. Piscotty, then a rookie, had a hit in each game and batted .375 in the series.
“The bigger the game this year, the more he’s stepped up for us,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He’s hit so many big home runs for us in big games, it’s nice to have somebody like that, he seems to respond in the clutch moments at the bigger times.”
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Two A’s with the potential for big milestone numbers came up short Sunday, but Jed Lowrie twice came close to getting his 100th RBI, hitting balls to the warning track in the first and the third and Davis will have to settle for 48 homers.
“I was trying,” Davis said of his push to reach 50. “But it never works out that way. But I like where I’m at and I like where this team is at.”
Davis did manage a feat that might be even more remarkable: In each of the past four seasons, he has finished with a .247 average.
“I’m kind of speechless,” he said. “I don’t know, it’s just weird. … I’m just kind of shocked. It was meant to be, that’s all I got.”
“That is just tough to comprehend,” Melvin said. “That’s almost impossible to do. The power numbers have gone up and he’s a better hitter, but I can’t explain that. The baseball gods obviously want him to hit .247.”
Oakland finished with a record of 97-65, which, even with Sunday’s loss is a bonkers number after the team’s three consecutive last-place finishes and with the A’s DL packed with starting pitchers.
“Shoot, we’re thrilled with we are to this point,” Melvin said. “And now the fun starts.”
With the A’s taking off for New York and Wednesday’s wild-card matchup against the Yankees after the game, the wild-card roster began to take shape.
Starter/reliever Daniel Mengden – who worked 4 2/3 scoreless innings and allowed one hit against the Yankees this month – said he is among the group of pitchers heading to Arizona to be ready for future rounds, if needed, and outfielder Dustin Fowler also is going to the team’s minor-league complex to catch the extra pitchers and stay sharp in the event of an injury.
Rookie reliever J.B. Wendelken, the September sensation, said he’s been told he’s on the wild-card roster; with his 0.54 ERA since being called up Aug. 30, including 10 consecutive scoreless outings over 13 2/3 innings. Wendelken could wind up with some higher leverage situations in the postseason, ala Francisco Rodriguez after the Angels called him up in Sept. 2002 en route to the title.
“You look up and look at the numbers and it’s been a quick ascent,” Melvin said.
The A’s still have not announced a starter for Wednesday, but the clear favorite is reliever Liam Hendriks to open the game, followed by a long string of relievers, and Oakland’s best bullpen arms could get multiple innings, especially closer Blake Treinen.
Melvin wasn’t ready to name a starter yet Sunday – the Yankees have not done so either – and said the announcement will come Tuesday.
“The place is going to be electric,” reliever Lou Trivino said. “I think it’s going to be a fun game. We’re very confident in the guys we have on offense, pitching, and defense. I think we have a really good shot and I’m really excited.”
Added fellow reliever Cory Gearrin: “It’s going to be loud. It’s going to be fun though. … Two great teams. It’s going to be exciting.”
The A’s have been one of the best road teams in baseball all season long. Their 47-33 record is tied for third-best in the majors and they lead the league with 134 home runs away from home.
“We’ve played well on the road this year,” said manager Bob Melvin. “We’re a power-hitting team and that’s a home-run ballpark. Obviously you’d like to play at home, but we’re not afraid to play in different venues, especially ballparks that are good hitters parks.”
“It’s fun to be a part of,” added Khris Davis, who leads MLB with 48 homers this season. “I’m just going to embrace whatever comes my way and accept the challenges that are out in front of us.”
As for the Yankees, they have been terrific at home this season, going 53-28, second behind only the rival Boston Red Sox. The Bronx Bombers have lived up to their name, leading the league with 144 home runs at home and setting an MLB record with 266 total homers.
“I’m glad they got that out of the way,” Melvin laughed. “They have a really deep lineup. You look at [their] eight and nine [hitters], they have potential 20-home-run guys down there. (Yankees general manager) Brian Cashman has done a great job building that team to that ballpark.”
But the A’s are a confident bunch. Perhaps Davis summed it up best when asked for his thoughts on the matchup: “My thoughts are win no matter what. That’s about it.”