A's pound Astros 14-2, keep slim playoff hopes alive

A's pound Astros 14-2, keep slim playoff hopes alive

Courtesy of Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

OAKLAND — For one night, everything went right for the Athletics.

If you had to describe the 2021 season to an outsider in one word: frustrating would be the most appropriate. But on the final Friday home game, everybody was happy. A good crowd was on hand for fireworks night and the A's pounded the Houston Astros 14-2.

Frankie Montas (13-9) dominated the Houston lineup pitching seven strong innings giving up only two hits and two runs, striking out eight to pick up the win. Chad Pinder hit a pinch-hit grand slam to deliver the knockout blow in the seventh inning.

Montas also became the first A's pitcher since Barry Zito in 2001 to amass 200 strikeouts and the hard throwing righty says that was one of his goals this season.

"I told all the guys since the season started I just wanted to stay healthy," Montas said. "Go out there every five days and get 200 strikeouts. For me to accomplish that goal is huge, I'm pretty happy right now. From all the guys; Sean [Manaea], [Mike] Fiers, [Chris] Bassitt, all the guys in the rotation, [James] Kaprielian, even Paul [Blackburn] now. Just for be able to go out there and reach one of the goals I had in Spring Training, pretty happy about that."

The Athletics are mathematically still alive. They are four games back of the Yankees for the second Wild Card spot with eight games remaining.

"I mean obviously it was a great game for us," Pinder said. "You could feel the energy a little bit more in our dugout and out on the field and Frankie kept us in that game the entire time until we could break free a little bit in a couple of those innings. We got our work cut out for us and we've just got to put our heads down and carry that momentum for the rest of the weekend."

Perhaps their good luck charm was the appearance of longtime clubhouse manager Steve Vucinich on the radio and TV broadcasts. He was interviewed because he is retiring and there will be a pregame ceremony on Sunday to celebrate his 54 years of service with the organization. Vucinich will be inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame in 2022 joining former third basemen Eric Chavez and Sal Bando.

The A's were trailing 2-0 and perhaps a sign from the baseball gods, Oakland scored three of its runs in the third frame with 'Vuc' in the radio booth. "I'm ready to (retire) and it's time. I'm going out on my own terms and that's so important to me," Vucinich said.

Vucinich's daughter Kayla will be throwing out the ceremonial first pitch and that there will be some special guests on hand. "I've thrown out the first pitch 3-4 four times here and a couple of times in Arizona but I thought it'd be a big thrill for my daughter, she's grown up here at the stadium," said Vucinich who has been coming to the Coliseum since 1966 when he was a teenager and his family had season tickets to the Raiders. "We were so proud that the city and county could build a fine facility like that which was second to none at that time. It was a big feather in the Oakland's cap versus San Francisco who were operating with the Cow Palace, Kezar, and Candlestick at the time."

How times have changed but the stadium disparity is for another story.

Vucinich was hired to be a batboy at age 15 and eventually matriculated from clubhouse attendant to visiting clubhouse manager in 1974. He succeeded the late Frank Ciensczyk in 1994 to become the home clubhouse manager. When you enter his clubhouse office, amongst all the years of memorabilia is this photo of him with Joe DiMaggio in 1968.

"I'm going to miss the people I see on the road. Whether it be media: writers, radio or TV personalities, front office people from other teams." Vucinich even thought of leaving the clubhouse and become a sports writer because he majored in journalism in college but he changed his mind.

"I admired the media, the daily press, the guys that were traveling with the club at that time was Ron Bergman and John Lindbloom. I kind of looked up to them and I thought this is a pretty good to do and then I started thinking no I think I'm better off staying in the clubhouse and making it a career, never thinking it would last that long. But I'm happy I did, it was a decision that was easy because I had nothing else going for me and it's been a great ride."

But what he won't miss are the long hours and that goes far beyond games that average three and a half hours.

"I feel sometimes to do your job right I've got to be here at 10 o'clock in the morning and I'm walking out of here at midnight for a night game.

Being a clubhouse manager means catering to a player's specific needs. For instance, when the Boston Red Sox had Carl Yastrzemski and Dwight Evans, they would have two big empty steamer trunks filled with Coors beer because they couldn't get that beer east of Kansas. "I'd have to go fit in six cases and Coors at the time was pasteurized so it loses its effect if it ever gets warm but these guys loved it."

And then another time Roger Clemens requested to get a birthday cake for his wife 30 minutes before game time. "In those days, Safeway didn't have their own bakeries so I had to find someone with a cake they could decorate.

"But a few years ago in Anaheim, one of our players said 'I've got this restaurant in San Francisco I really want to get a great meal from them. Can you have one of your guys in Oakland go to San Francisco, pick up the meal, drive back across the Bay Bridge and meet us when we land at Oakland Airport?' And I said, 'No!' That was a little overboard," Vucinich said with a laugh on the A's telecast.

"Our job is to make it easy for them to compete on the field. We try to make the job comfortable for them to play. If it's a request that they can ease their mind on as they go out to play between the white lines, we'll take care of it if we can."

Vucinich plans to take some extended time away and travel to places he couldn't because of the job including a cruise and a train trip next July to Denali and Alaska. He also loves to fish and play golf. He will still visit Kayla in the Bay Area while residing in Arizona. "I've got a bucket list. Wimbledon's one of them. I want to see a match on center court. I want to go to the Masters' one day and the Kentucky Derby if that's still around."

As for the rest of the game, it remained 3-2 until the seventh inning and that's when the wheels fell off for the Astros.

Starling Marte put the A's up 5-2 with an opposite field two-run double.

Lefty Brooks Raley was brought in to face Matt Olson. He struck him out, but then walked Mark Canha to load the bases. Because of the three batter rule to minimize pitching chances, Manager Bob Melvin decided to pinch-hit for Seth Brown who bats left-handed for Chad Pinder. The decision was arguably one of the best made by the A's skipper this season.

"You look at the box score and you think it's a 14-2 game but it was anything but," Manager Bob Melvin said. "You go into the 8th inning, one swing of the bat can turn it around. Pinder's hit was huge, Marte's hit was huge, Canha's walk was big. They all kind of piled up at the end and made it the type of game that it was but it was a nailbiter the entire game so certainly the score it wasn't indicative how the game was playing for a long period of time."

The Athletics had scored 10 runs total in the four game series vs. Seattle and yet they scored 11 runs in the 7th and 8th innings.

In the 9th, Domingo Acevedo made it interesting as we walked the bases loaded but he also struck out the side and when he threw his final pitch to fan Jose Siri, he let out an emphatic yell and a fist pump in celebration.

And this was the icing on the cake for fans who paid to see Fireworks and they got plenty of them during the game.

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