The A’s were in some trouble when Matt Chapman started tracking a ball bouncing down the third-baseline. The Los Angeles Angels had two runners in scoring position with no one out in the fourth inning when Albert Pujols sent the platinum glover into action, but Chapman wasn’t thinking about heroics when deciding what to do with a ball in hand.
“I was looking to keep the ball in the infield, get an out no matter what and try to minimize the damage,” Chapman said. “[Justin] Upton seemed to go on contact on that play. My momentum was already taking me into foul territory on that play and home plate was an easier throw anyways, so I took the shorter throw and saved a run right there. Had he stayed I would’ve been throwing across the diamond. I was just trying to get an out either way.”
Chapman’s description takes some drama out of an important play many don’t make, one that ended up being the start of a pivotal stretch in Monday’s 3-0, series-clinching victory over the Angels at Oakland Coliseum.
Starter Chris Bassitt eventually came out of the inning unscathed, ending a significant threat with a 1-2-3 double play. The A’s could’ve been in big trouble without that and Chapman’s smart play.
“That was a big swing,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “When you have close games, there are always a couple of plays that are big momentum swings. Certainly, that one and the double play, they were huge.”
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Excellent defense is a steady aspect of Chapman’s game. When he combines it with excellence at the plate, it’s easy to see why Melvin believes Chapman will be a perennial MVP candidate.
That was clear on Monday, when Chapman found his offensive rhythm after a few subpar performances. Chapman ended a mini-slump – everything is magnified in a 60-game season – by going 3-for-4 with an RBI against the Angels. His batting average went from .083 to .250 in a flash, following hits in his first three plate appearances.
“With a guy like him, it’s only a matter of time,” Melvin said. “Once he gets the first hit, then he’s a little more comfortable and then he’s off to the races with the types of swings we normally see out of him.”
Chapman looked locked in from the outset. He fouled a ball straight back for his second strike – a sign his timing was right – before lining a single into left field. Then he roped an RBI double over Mike Trout’s head in deep center and followed that with another base hit.
it was a return to form after two off games. He had an RBI triple in the bottom of the eighth on Friday and then went hitless over the weekend. Chapman came back strong, looking dangerous. That’s a good sign for an A’s team trying to stack wins early in a 60-game season.
“I’m getting more and more comfortable,” Chapman said. “In that first game, I felt like I was hitting the ball hard but right at guys. And then in the second and third games maybe I was trying to do a little bit too much. The Angels have some good pitchers. They have seen me a lot and I have seen them a lot and they know how to pitch me. They are the type of team that’s going to make you earn it and chase their kinds of pitches. …I tried to stay within myself and get back to what I was trying to do.”
While he’ll face stiff competition for the American League’s MVP award even with an excellent season – Trout’s always a favorite – Chapman illustrated immense value to an A’s team that needs him going strong offensively with the elite defense he makes seem easy.
That will lead to more successful series like the one the A’s just wrapped and set up the possibility of an ever-elusive hot start to the season.