The Athletics are on the outside looking in on the AL playoff picture, and if they are going to get back into position to play past the regular-season finale Oct. 3, they need to string a few wins together.
That run started Saturday with a skid-busting win over the New York Yankees and it continued Sunday night with their second straight victory over the Bronx Bombers.
Saturday's hero was Chris Bassitt, just for his presence, and on Sunday night, it was Tony Kemp, who hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning to push the A's to a massive 3-1 win over the Yankees in the series finale at the Oakland Coliseum.
Kemp, who entered the game an inning earlier as a pinch hitter for Chad Pinder, has hit five home runs this season, and three of them have come against the Yankees.
Kemp finished the game 2-for-2 with a single in the seventh and the homer in the eighth. In six total games against the Yankees this season, he went 8-for-16 with one double, three homers, two walks and no strikeouts, good for a 1.125 OPS per Stats.
After the A's win Sunday, MLB.com's Martin Gallegos asked manager Bob Melvin about the impact Kemp has had this season.
"Obviously pretty big," Melvin said. "He's had some really dramatic stuff for us over the last couple of years, especially this year, and he's gotten a much better opportunity this year. I remember when he talked about coming to camp this year, and he said this is the first year he's ever come spring training and had a team made. So he's settled in nicely here. This is a good spot for him. And when he doesn't start, it's always a really good option to have off the bench, and we only have a three-man bench right now. He plays any number of roles and today he came up huge."
Kemp didn't wait around in his at-bat against Yankees reliever Chad Green in the eighth, turning on a first-pitch 95 mph fastball and getting it over the right-field wall for a 348-foot homer.
When asked about his recent success by The Athletic's Steve Berman, Kemp credited a conversation with his brother, Corey.
"I don't normally swing at the first pitch of at-bats, but I've got to give a lot of credit to my brother," Kemp said. "We were talking and he asked me if I knew any of my advanced stats, and I don't look at stats during the year because I don't want to get clouded or foggy up there. And he just told me a stat that, what my batting average was in 0-0 counts and it was pretty good. So going into the last couple of days, I've been a little more aggressive and it's actually been paying off. So gotta give credit to my brother right there."
Kemp entered the day with 11 hits in 26 at-bats when he swings at the first pitch, good for a .423 batting average. His homer pushed that mark to .444 on the first pitch.
With Mark Canha on second base after a two-out double, Kemp didn't need to homer. A properly placed base hit would have gotten the job done. In fact, Kemp wasn't even trying to hit it out of the park.
"Honestly, it felt pretty good off the bat," Kemp said. "I'm not usually a guy that backspins balls to right field, especially in Oakland, it's a tough place to get it out. The last thing I was trying to do was hit a home run right there. I just honestly tried to put a good swing on a ball right there. I know Chad Green has good velo. Saw a good pitch and put my best swing on it. I think I was just as surprised as everyone else in the stands, especially you guys, probably."
If the A's had lost to the Yankees, they would have remained 6 1/2 games behind the Houston Astros in the AL West and 3 1/2 games behind the Boston Red Sox for the second AL Wild Card spot.
Instead, thanks to Kemp's homer, the A's have cut those leads to 5 1/2 and 2 1/2 games, respectively, and if they are going to catch either team, Sunday's win over the Yankees could go a long way toward helping the cause.