TORONTO — For the A’s, the last 10 days have felt like a month.
Oakland hasn’t played a single game at home since this season started, but for a team with modest expectations even before a harsh road series, things have gone quite well. After facing loaded teams like the Phillies, Rays, and then the Blue Jays, the A’s will start the home portion of their schedule on Monday night at .500, having split this 10-game road trip.
“The fight is in them,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said before his club’s 4-3 loss to Toronto on Sunday. “They continue to grind out at-bats; guys take the mound; it’s a next-man-up mentality down there right now from our bullpen.”
An underdog in every series so far, these new-look A’s have been forced to play with extra grittiness. That part of their game first showed itself on Sunday on defense, which isn’t always guaranteed from worn-down players on tired legs.
Right fielder Seth Brown sold out for a headfirst dive on a fly ball in the second inning, and a few batters later Tony Kemp made a painful body block and flipped to second base on a screaming one-hop grounder.
Kemp kicked his defense a notch higher in the fifth inning, too. The 30-year-old made three straight smooth plays with the glove to shut down a runner-on-third, no-out situation and limit the damage to just one run. That was a bit of a turning point for the A’s effort on the day — another run or two there would’ve teetered the momentum from a close game to a potential blowout.
“They don’t take plays off,” Kotsay said of his roster. “They’ve shown an energy about them throughout this road trip, and again Tony displayed that today.”
Kemp leads a unique A’s clubhouse that features a healthy mix of veterans like Elvis Andrus, Stephen Vogt and Jed Lowrie, and unproven but hungry young players like Cristian Pache, who played the hero in Saturday’s win. That makeup has helped implement a scrappy, never-say-die attitude.
“We are a very young team,” said Oakland starter Adam Oller, who took the loss in just his second Major League appearance. “So it’s nice to have some of those veterans in here to kind of show you the way, and show you what you’re supposed to be doing, because things can speed up quickly.”
You can lump backup catcher Vogt into the veteran category, and the 37-year-old got the offense going with a solo home run in the fifth against Toronto’s Alek Manoah. Vogt’s bomb rattled Manoah just enough for the A’s to eke out one more run that inning.
Oakland stayed pesky late into the game, too, tagging stingy, sidewinding reliever Adam Cimber for a run in the eighth to make things even tighter, before ultimately falling short — with the final out coming as Pache fell just a few feet short of more ninth-inning dramatics.
This series with the Blue Jays was a bit of an eye-opening experience for the A’s, and not in a bad way. Less talented on paper than the explosive Toronto roster, Oakland never made it seem like the skill gap was that wide.
While the Jays utilize a star-studded lineup and home run power, the A’s get it done a different, but still efficient way. That contrast works, though, because it’s simply the style of ball that suits this Oakland squad best.
After dropping two of three at Rogers Centre, the A’s must now take a deep breath and gear up for the next one, Opening Night against the Orioles at the Coliseum.
“You look for that day off tomorrow,” the A’s skipper added after the rigorous road trip came to a close. “But I think the energy will be there tomorrow with Opening Day and going home.”
There’s no off-day yet — as much as the A’s might want one — so the grind continues. At least now the A’s get to continue their fight at home.