At the turn of the 20th century, the Philadelphia Athletics collected three World Series titles and six AL pennants behind some dominant pitching.
The A’s were back in town on Friday night, and Daniel Mengden made it feel — and look — like 1913 again.
Sporting a handlebar mustache and an old-school delivery, Mengden tossed a two-hitter, shutting down Rhys Hoskins and the Phillies in Oakland’s 4-0 victory in a matchup of last-place teams at Citizens Bank Park (see observations).
Matt Olson — Oakland’s version of Hoskins — hit a 483-foot, two-run homer in the first inning off Mark Leiter Jr. It was the rookie’s 15th homer in his past 30 games and 19 in 51.
Hoskins had entered as the fastest in major-league history to hit 18 homers. But his 35th game proved frustrating. He chased a pitch in the dirt for strike three in the second and fanned looking on three pitches in the fourth. He made good contact in the seventh, but grounded out sharply to second.
Mengden was so efficient Hoskins didn’t get a fourth at-bat.
“As well as we’ve been swinging the bats, we got stymied by that Mengden kid,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He really pitched well. He pitched backwards. He threw as many off-speed pitches as he did fastballs. I tip my cap to him. He really did a good job on us, and I’m glad I didn’t give J.P. Crawford the day off."
Crawford, making his second start at shortstop, singled in the third and sixth innings for the only offense. He never got past second base, and Aaron Altherr’s fly out to deep left in the seventh was the closest the Phillies came to scoring in their first shutout since Aug. 16 at San Diego.
The Phillies were coming off a three-game sweep of Miami in which they scored 27 runs. But Mengden’s double-clutch windup and changing speeds messed with the Phillies’ timing.
It was a good reminder this remains a young team that’s still experiencing things for the first time.
“It’s a funky delivery, a funky windup,” said Andrew Knapp, who made his first start at catcher since Aug. 3. “He kind of messes with your timing with the double pump over the top. But kudos to him. He was hitting his spots and keeping us off-balance.”
Mengden (1-1) retired the first seven hitters and the final 11 in his first career complete game. He walked none and struck out seven. Not bad for a guy who was called up 10 days earlier and came in with a 7.07 ERA in three big-league starts this season.
But nobody on the Phillies’ active roster had ever faced the 24-year-old right-hander. Blame that on an unusual September interleague series, with the A’s making their first trip to their former home since 2011.
And it’s been many years since anybody has seen the extended windup-handlebar mustache combination on the mound.
“He probably does it for his own comfort level,” Mackanin said.
Mengden taps his toe and brings his glove over his head before bringing it back to eye level. Then he taps his toe and again raises his glove before delivering to the plate. But Mengden also at times went to a regular delivery.
“A bunch of the Phillies kind of hang low and get that timing off the pitcher," Mengden said. "So we wanted to get some quick pitches in there."
Even when the Phillies figured out the delivery, they were befuddled by the pitches themselves.
“Hitters never knew what’s coming,” Mackanin said. “He pitched backwards sometimes and snuck fastballs by us. He started off with fastballs and got us out soft. It was tough for a hitter to know what was coming. He missed his spots only about eight times, which is huge.”
Matt Joyce added a second two-out, two-run homer in the third off Leiter (3-6). The right-hander settled down from there to allow four runs and seven hits over six innings with one walk while matching a career high with nine strikeouts.
“I had pretty good command of a lot of my secondary stuff, so I was just trying to mix it up and bury the off-speed pitches when we got to two strikes,” Leiter said.
The bullpen was flawless from there, with Zac Curtis striking out two in a hitless ninth in his Phillies debut. And Knapp was smooth behind the plate in his return from a broken hand. But the Phillies dropped their 90th game, and now must win six of their final 15 to avoid 100 losses.
“The result wasn’t what we wanted, but the hand felt good. No problems there,” Knapp said. “it felt good getting behind the plate again.”