Athletics

'Steady Eddie,' helping of Rally Skittles key another A's walk-off

'Steady Eddie,' helping of Rally Skittles key another A's walk-off

OAKLAND — When a team enjoys a stretch like the A’s currently are, no one wants to miss a moment.

So it was that Kendall Graveman, who’d changed out of his uniform after finishing his post-start regimen, felt compelled to slip back into his game pants and jacket and return to the A’s dugout before the bottom of the 11th Monday night.

He arrived just in time to see Jed Lowrie crack a two-out home run that gave the A’s a 3-2 win over the Angels, giving Oakland three walk-off victories in three days.

“I was sitting up here (in the clubhouse) the last half (of the 11th) and said, ‘I gotta go down and cheer the guys on,’” Graveman said afterward. “So I put my stuff back on and went to the dugout. It’s a good feeling. What’s special about this team is you don’t know who it’s going to be getting the big hits at the end of the game.”

The A’s have latched on to a winning formula: Keep the game close, rely on the bullpen to put up multiple zeros and then wait for someone to emerge as a hero.

Repeat as needed.

It was Lowrie's turn Monday. His return to health after left foot surgery, and another procedure to fix a deviated septum, has been an under-the-radar bright spot in itself. But he’s also been the A’s steadiest hitter, lately from the No. 2 spot in the lineup. He doesn’t get much of the spotlight, as A’s catcher Stephen Vogt pointed out, but he came through with the third multi-homer game of his career (first since 2010) and his second walk-off blast.

“He’s been quietly the Steady Eddie for us all year,” Vogt said. “… He’s just sitting there, no one ever talks about him. He’s by far, to me, our most consistent, best hitter. He always has been, and it’s really fun to watch what he’s been doing.”

The A’s hadn’t won three consecutive games in walk-off fashion since June 1-3, 2004. And the euphoria surrounding these kinds of stretches is always accompanied by some sort of colorful ritual.

Introducing the Rally Skittle. Or as Lowrie says the A’s call them, “Hittles.”

During spring training, a fan that Vogt identified as “Leah” brought the team some Skittles, and the A’s went on a five-game Cactus League winning streak afterward. The seed was planted. Vogt brought a bag of the rainbow candy down to the dugout Saturday night, and well, you can see where this is going.

It’s not the first time Skittles have merged with sports. Former Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, who just joined the Raiders, made headlines by gobbling them on the sideline during games.

“I guess it’s fitting that Beast Mode is back in Oakland,” Vogt said. “But you can’t bring them out early. You gotta know when to bring them out. We’re 3-for-3 with Rally Skittles. We’re having fun with it. The other night I brought them down in the ninth. (On Sunday) I brought them down in the eighth. We had to stretch them out tonight.”

Lowrie didn’t indulge too much before his walk-off blast off Deolis Guerra, which came on a 1-0 changeup.

“I had one every single inning,” he said. “Bottom nine, bottom 10, bottom 11 … because that's all we needed was one run.”

Sometimes these crazes fade. Sometimes they don’t. But there’s no doubt that the A’s (15-17), who seemed spiraling in the wrong direction on a 2-7 road trip, have been reinvigorated.

“Three in a row of these -- pretty crazy,” Lowrie said. “Minus some big postseason games, this is about as exciting of a stretch of baseball as I've been a part of.”

A's could have more difficulty finding diamonds in the rough this offseason

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A's could have more difficulty finding diamonds in the rough this offseason

The 2018 Winter Meetings were mostly uneventful, with just a handful of significant trades and free agent signings. But the players who did agree to contracts earned big money, signifying a hotter market than last year.

Outfielder Andrew McCutchen inked a three-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies despite a modest 20 home runs and 65 RBI last season. Relievers Jeurys Familia and Joe Kelly each got three-year contracts worth $30 million and $25 million, respectively.

The starting pitcher market, where the A's are most interested, appears to be especially strong. Patrick Corbin got a six-year contract worth a staggering $140 million from the Nationals. Nathan Eovaldi received four years and $67.5 million from the Red Sox, despite posting similar numbers to Trevor Cahill.

Even Tyson Ross earned $5.75 million from the Tigers following a season in which he recorded a 4.15 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, both significantly worse than Cahill and Edwin Jackson.

So what does all of that mean? Essentially, it suggests the A's will have to spend more money than they would like in order to be competitive in free agency.

Of course, in previous years, Billy Beane and David Forst have been successful finding diamonds in the rough for more affordable price tags. They say they will stick to their plan.

"We don't really get to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak," Forst said. "We kind of set our price. We know what we can do within the confines of our payroll and try to stay on that."

That might be a little more difficult this year, based on the early contract numbers in free agency. While the A's try not to let other teams' deals affect their negotiations, it's hard not to take notice.

"Any time a player comes off the market, whether it's a free agent or a trade, that's one fewer guy that you can put in place," Forst said. "So you kind of have to take that into account. We're not playing in a certain stratosphere with the starting pitcher market, so those don't really affect us, but you do have to keep it in mind. There are only so many guys out there." 

The A's typically prefer to wait until late in the offseason to find free agents who fit their price range. That tactic worked well last year with Cahill, Brett Anderson, and Jonathan Lucroy. 

"We have sort of targeted conversations, free agents, and trades, and kind of go at our own pace," Forst said. "I don't know that any external forces are going to change that."

Oakland will have to hope a few quality free agents slip through the cracks again.

A's Matt Chapman undergoes shoulder surgery, will swing again in six weeks

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A's Matt Chapman undergoes shoulder surgery, will swing again in six weeks

Matt Chapman had his second surgery of the offseason on Friday and underwent a successful procedure on his left shoulder, the A's announced. 

The Gold Glove-winning third baseman will begin physical therapy next week, and is expected to be able to swing a bat in six weeks, according to Dr. William Workman, who performed the surgery. Six weeks from the surgery is Jan. 25, 2019, or about two weeks before the start of spring training. 

Chapman recently felt discomfort in his shoulder during off-season workouts, according to the A's. In October, Chapman underwent surgery on his left thumb, and was expected to make a full recovery. 

Chapman emerged as one of the most important A's last season, and arguably the best defender in baseball. He led all of MLB with 29 defensive runs saved, and was voted the winner of the AL Platinum Glove. 

The A's need his glove -- and his bat -- healthy for spring training, no matter how the rest of the offseason shakes out.