Matt Chapman is coming up big when it matters most.
The Oakland third baseman has hit home runs in each of the past two games as the Athletics have reduced their magic number to clinch an American League wild-card playoff berth to one with three games to play.
Chapman, who entered Wednesday’s game batting just .123 in September, hit a two-run homer off Los Angeles Angels reliever Hansel Robles that night to give the A’s a 3-2 road victory, then added a two-run shot off Felix Hernandez in a 3-1 win Thursday in Seattle on an emotional night when Mariners fans bade farewell to King Felix.
“It feels great. I haven’t been playing as well as I’d like to and to my capabilities, but that doesn’t matter,” Chapman said. “That’s the great thing about our team. No matter how guys are feeling, it’s about winning baseball games. That’s all we care about. To get that win and keep the lead in the wild-card (race), everybody was pretty excited, and hopefully we carry that momentum into these last (few) games.”
The A’s (96-63) can clinch a playoff berth with a victory Friday night against the Mariners in Seattle or with a Cleveland Indians loss. They also have a one-game lead on the Tampa Bay Rays for the AL’s top wild-card spot.
“Big-time players show up like that,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said of Chapman. “Some of the stuff he’s been doing shows up in the score of the game, but not necessarily on the stat pack. … Sometimes you start to press a little bit as a group and a lot of times, one swing of the bat ends up loosening everybody up.”
Hernandez, the longtime Mariners ace, completed his 15th and likely final season with Seattle. The King’s Court, the right-hander’s cheering section down the left field line, was more than 10,000 fans strong and gave him an ovation at every opportunity.
“You will always be the king in this town,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said to Hernandez as he replaced him in the sixth inning.
After the game, Hernandez put on one of the yellow “King’s Court” T-shirts and went down to shake hands, wave to fans and pose for pictures.
“It was the best section in baseball, and today it was rocking,” Hernandez said.
A’s right-hander Mike Fiers (15-4, 3.91) is scheduled to start Friday against Mariners rookie left-hander Justus Sheffield (0-1, 6.10). Fiers is 3-2 with a 6.15 ERA in 11 career starts against Seattle, including 1-1 with a 5.79 ERA in three tries this season.
Sheffield, who is still seeking his first career victory, has not faced the A’s previously.
The A’s got some good news on the injury front as outfielder Mark Canha, who left Wednesday’s game with a groin strain, was able to do some pregame running Thursday. Canha is batting .275 with a career-high 26 home runs and 58 RBIs.
“Whenever you have to come off the field and you hear about a groin strain, your mind goes to a bad place,” Melvin said. “But he’s feeling better today. It could be a day-to-day proposition.”
In addition, the A’s activated outfielder Stephen Piscotty from the injured list after he missed 29 games with a sprained right ankle. Melvin said he hopes to get Piscotty a handful of at-bats this weekend.
A’s slugger Khris Davis has missed the past two games with the stomach flu.
–Field Level Media