ST. PETERSBURG — Cristian Pache seemingly manages to do something spectacular every time he takes the field for the A’s. Thursday was no exception.
In a 6-3 victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field that secured Oakland a four-game series win, Pache once again stood out as the game’s most exciting player. His latest eye-opening feat was a two-hit day that featured a mad dash around the bases in the second inning on an RBI single that evolved into a Little League homer, plating three runs after the ball was misplayed by Tampa Bay outfielders Randy Arozarena and Kevin Kiermaier.
“As I was going, the dugout was going crazy, so I knew something must have happened,” said third baseman Kevin Smith, who was on first base after hitting a single just before Pache’s hit. “When I turned around, Kiermaier kind of bobbled it again at the wall, and I saw Pache was hauling it. It was just fun to tell him to come on home. That was awesome. He’s been hitting the ball so hard and playing well.”
Among those frantically cheering on Pache during the chaos was A’s starter Cole Irvin, who was solid over 6 1/3 innings as he limited the Rays’ hitters to just three runs on five hits.
“I was yelling at him to run faster,” Irvin said. “That was really fun. He’s gonna be a really good player for us. It’s just more of a confidence boost for our young club, and we can just build on it.”
Pache’s sprint speed on the play was only 27.8 feet per second, slightly above the Major League average of 27.0.
Though an error aided the play, Pache’s tremendous burst out of the box upon making contact certainly played a role in the ensuing havoc. It’s that same energy the A’s saw once he was acquired from the Braves last month as part of the prospect haul in exchange for Matt Olson, and have quickly fallen in love with.
“The excitement he brings,” manager Mark Kotsay said. “If he wasn’t running hard out of the box, that play might not happen. Again, the fight, the character of this team, it’s just continuing to grow in the right direction.”
It was clearly a max effort from Pache, whose helmet flew off shortly after he rounded third base. Was he tired at all after such a long trek?
“No,” Pache said with a grin. “I’m young still. I’m only just starting to play baseball. I’ve got a lot more to go.”
The 70-grade speed in Pache’s bag is one of many tools that makes him such a tantalizing talent, one the A’s believe is about ready to blossom at the Major League level.
There’s also the elite 80-grade defense that makes Pache’s glovework in center field look effortless, like the casual Willie Mays-style basket catch he made after gliding out to deep center and easily tracking down Manuel Margot’s fly ball in the fifth.
“It’s really fun to watch him play,” Irvin said of Pache. “He’s an electric player, and we’re excited to have him. I’m glad we’re in the same uniform together.”
After trading away several stars during Spring Training, these A’s have quickly embraced the underdog role. Though their squad is filled with players with little big league experience, it’s those same players who have often stepped up in key moments, especially in taking three of four from a Rays ballclub that is coming off a 2021 American League East championship. It was Oakland’s first four-game series victory at Tropicana Field since May 30-June 2, 2002.
In addition to Pache, Thursday’s game was also highlighted by another superb effort from an unheralded bullpen. With closer Lou Trivino down after pitching the previous two nights, Kotsay handed the final 2 2/3 innings to the trio of Domingo Acevedo, A.J. Puk and Dany Jiménez, which combined to hold the Rays scoreless. For Jiménez, who entered the regular season with only two Major League appearances under his belt, a scoreless ninth notched the 28-year-old righty’s first career save.
“It was emotional,” Jiménez said. “My first save. I was surprised when they called me out of the bullpen for the final inning. It surprised me a lot. I was excited.”
Now with a 4-3 record, these A’s are nothing like the downtrodden club most outside observers projected them to be. Heading into Toronto for a big three-game series against a high-powered Blue Jays offense, they’re playing with a ton of confidence and swinging big sticks of their own, having scored 31 runs in the four games.
Perhaps more importantly, though, these A’s are playing with passion. They’re playing with a ton of heart. And they’re playing for each other.
“It’s important to have joy on the team,” Pache said. “The game is won from the dugout. We’re united at all times supporting each other. Thanks to God, we’re a team with a lot of soul and always give the best of ourselves on the field so our fans can enjoy it.”