Reporting from Oakland, Calif. -- Coco Crisp has still got it. The 36-year-old right fielder lined a walk-off single in the 13th inning to give the Oakland A's a 1-0 home win over Tampa Bay in a Friday night contest between two of the American League’s worst teams.
Crisp’s hit was witnessed by those who remained in the stands among a crowd of 15,250 fans and 800 dogs. The canine fans were admitted as part of the A’s “Bark in the Park” promotion for baseball-loving pet owners. In MLB terms, these two teams are the runt of the litter, as Tampa Bay stands dead last in its division at 38-58, while the Oakland A’s aren’t much better.
Against the soft Tampa lineup, Oakland’s Sean Manaea looked like the Dodger’s Clayton Kershaw. Manaea got seven strikeouts and didn’t give up a walk in his eight innings on the mound. Despite his work, it would be John Axford (4-3) who got the win for the A’s in the 13th.
The real story though was Crisp, who has emerged as the one bright spot on an otherwise disappointing roster by batting a MLB-leading .423 with runners in scoring position (RISP). The Athletics as a whole are hitting .356 with RISP since June 27, after batting .258 with RISP over the first 75 games of this season. Crisp is a big part of that improvement, as this season Oakland’s .277 batting average with RISP is fourth in MLB.
Going into his winning at-bat in the 13th, Crisp was due. In his recent plate appearances, he was just 0-for-9 with a walk. Crisp is Oakland’s leadoff hitter, but in the 13th it was third baseman Ryan Healy's lead-off double which helped jump start the Oakland attack.
“I think Healy did a good job leading off, and this is going to be a great experience for him as he develops,” Crisp told the Daily Sports Herald.
When Crisp’s single fell into the outfield, both Crisp and Healy tossed their helmets into the air as Tampa Bay pitcher Dylan Floro (0-1) left the field puzzled. Crisp’s teammates greeted him with a shaving cream pie and a bath from the water cooler following the win.
For Crisp, it was an opportunity to make amends for a mistake committed three games ago, when he nearly cost Oakland a win. Crisp hit what he thought was a ninth inning home run off Astros' closer Will Harris, and lost focus. In fact, the play turned out to be a game-tying double, and Crisp was easily tagged out between second and third.
"Thankfully we won the game because that could've been a big play," Crisp said. "It was a big play regardless. It did get the run in and it kept us playing."
Crisp’s performance at the plate with RISP is even more impressive given that he is the leadoff batter for the A’s, and often isn’t in a position to bat with runners on base. In his first at-bat of the game, Crisp put down a well-placed bunt, but couldn’t beat the throw. A couple of years ago, Crisp would have been safe by a country mile, but at 36, he is slowing down. Crisp’s rookie season was in 2002 with Cleveland where shared the outfield with Milton Bradley in what was perhaps the most colorfully-named outfield ever.
In baseball, as in boxing, power is the last thing to go, and the once-speedy Crisp still has pop in his bat.
Of his last 24 hits, 12 have been for extra bases, including two home runs. Crisp spent much of last season on the DL and Oakland is happy to see him healthy again and slugging. Limited to 44 games last year, he had career lows in slugging and on base percentage. Crisp is making $11 million this season, and if Oakland extends its option he could remain with the team next season.
With an average game time of 2 hours and 57 minutes, the Oakland Coliseum has had the shortest game time in MLB. The large foul territory helps the pitchers of course, and the anemic offense of the home team helps get the young fans home early on a school night. Though Crisp’s at-bat came in the 13th, the game ended up being a mere 3 hours and 31 minutes long.
Crisp’s game-winning hit was the eighth walk-off at-bat of his career, and his sixth with the Oakland Athletics. Crisp believes his veteran experience has helped him have more confidence in clutch at-bat situations.
"They are pretty much the same thing," said Crisp. "If you have been successful before you know that you can be successful again. It helps to have gained that experience and you have a thought process that helps you figure out what might work."
Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
By Joseph Hammond
Contributing Writer for TheDailySportsHerald.com