OAKLAND — An early-season ticket to Triple-A Nashville wasn’t what Mark Canha had in mind, but the time in the minors was well spent.
The A’s outfielder says he came back a more confident and prepared hitter, and was that ever apparent Friday night. Canha capped a 3-for-4 night with a 10th inning game-winning homer off Heath Hembree to sink the Red Sox 3-2 and give the A’s their fourth walk-off victory in their past 13 games.
Hembree fell behind 2-0 and then left a slider hanging on the inner half of the plate, and Canha turned on it and launched it over the left field wall, ending an entertaining and well-played game that had the bipartisan Coliseum crowd charged up throughout the night.
To hear Canha tell it, he wasn’t in his comfort zone stepping in against Hembree to lead off the bottom of the 10th.
“Even in that at-bat, I was kind of battling myself,” he said. “My take on the 1-0 pitch was super-rushy and super-jumpy, and I told myself I needed to calm down after that pitch. I told myself ‘calm down, go slow,’ and I saw it really well and put a good swing on it.”
Strangely enough, Canha appeared quite comfortable taking his hacks against fireballing Red Sox lefty Chris Sale, the five-time All-Star and major leagues’ strikeout leader. Sale struck out 10 over seven innings of two-run ball — matching his own modern-day major league record with eight consecutive starts in a season with double-digit strikeouts (a mark he shares with Pedro Martinez).
But Canha lined a double to left in his first at-bat, then got the A’s on the board with a run-scoring triple to right in the fifth.
Canha had faced Sale just one prior time, going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts on Opening Night a year ago when the lefty was mowing down hitters for the White Sox.
“I was a different player at the beginning of last year than I am now,” Canha said. “I just kept telling myself that, and telling myself tonight I’m gonna see the ball better against him than I did. I just had a plan to be aggressive all night, and it worked out.”
Canha went 2-for-19 to begin his season and was optioned to Nashville. At the time, manager Bob Melvin said Canha needed consistent at-bats in order to make a quick return to the bigs. Looking back, Canha believes that stint at Triple-A was important. In the seven games he’s played upon returning, he is 10-for-21 (.476) with two homers and six RBI.
“I needed the at-bats and I needed to make some adjustments,” he said. “I wasn’t where I needed to be. I had some things to figure out. I’m not saying I’ve figured it out, but I’m seeing the ball a little better.”