Kendall Graveman saved the A’s in two ways Sunday, with his right arm and with his head.
Facing a Boston Red Sox lineup that has pummeled A’s pitching this season, Graveman threw 6 1/3 shutout innings, keeping the A’s in a game in which they were no-hit until the eighth. Marcus Semien broke up Eduardo Rodriguez’s bid for history with an infield single, and the A’s walked off with an improbable 1-0 win in the ninth when Khris Davis doubled off of Boston closer Craig Kimbrel, scoring Danny Valencia from first base.
“You almost didn’t have time to be happy,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said of the sudden turn of events.
Indirectly, Graveman had a hand in the game-winning play, too. Davis had taken a called third strike in his first at-bat of the game and was voicing his frustration at home plate umpire Brian Knight when Graveman came up and calmed him down.
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“He was just like, ‘Hey, I need you out there,’ ” Davis said. “And he was right. He called it.”
The A’s avoided a three-game sweep by shutting out a Red Sox lineup that had scored in double digits in all of their previous meetings. They also avoided the dubious distinction of becoming the first Oakland team to be no-hit in 25 years, though they came close.
Rodriguez, the Boston left-hander who entered the game with a 5.35 ERA, had a no-hitter intact with two outs in the eighth when Semien hit a ground ball back up the middle. Rodriguez knocked it down with his leg but paused to locate it before throwing to first.
Semien was called out at first. But the A’s challenged the call, and rulings came quickly from both the replay crew, which overturned the call after 19 seconds, and the official scorer, who immediately awarded Semien a hit.
“I had a good feeling about it,” said Semien, who motioned safe immediately on crossing the bag. “It’s great with replay now … It’s good to get it right.”
It extended the A’s streak of games without being no-hit to 4,033 – the longest active streak in the majors. The last no-hitter against the A’s came on July 13, 1991, when four Orioles pitchers combined for a 2-0 win at the Coliseum.
Their second hit Sunday ended the game. In a scoreless tie, the Red Sox brought in their closer for the ninth, but Kimbrel walked Danny Valencia to open the inning. Davis lined the first pitch he saw, a 97-mph fastball, to left for a double.
Brock Holt bobbled his attempt to pick up the ricochet, and Valencia rounded third and sped home with the game-winning run. He was the first A’s runner to advance past first base in the game.
“He’d walked Danny and I know he was just trying to get ahead,” Davis said of Kimbrel, who blew just his third save this season. “I didn’t want to miss the first one.”
The A’s used their bullpen heavily in blowout losses the past two nights, but dealt the Red Sox a shutout behind Graveman, Ryan Dull and Ryan Madson. Dull entered with two on and one out in the seventh and got Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts to hit fly-ball outs, and Madson pitched a scoreless ninth.
“It was all our plus guys, but you have to get there,” Melvin said. “Now you have to deal with a potential no-hitter on top of it, where you’re trying to just get a hit, let alone a run. Next thing you know it’s a walk and a double, then it’s a win. So if you can do the little things right and hold the other team down, you always have a chance to win.”
Melvin said he thought the key to the game was Graveman getting out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fourth, the result of a throwing error by Valencia that pulled Semien off second base on a potential force play. Holt scorched a line drive but right at Semien, and Graveman retired Yoan Moncada on a grounder to Valencia at first to end the inning.
Graveman finished with seven strikeouts against a Boston lineup that had totaled 27 runs over the previous two nights and 67 in five games against the A’s this season. He said he spent the previous week studying the Red Sox hitters and forming a game plan.
“Plan of attack was just to mix pitches,” Graveman said. “We threw the breaking ball more, we threw the changeup more, and we threw the sinker to both sides of the plate. I think that’s what you have to do with a team that’s hitting .280 as a group.”
Compared to last season, when he struggled in the second half and ended the year on the disabled list, Graveman has improved. He is 9-3 with a 3.18 ERA over his last 18 starts. He also tied his career high of 112 pitches Sunday and is the only member of the A’s starting rotation this year not to spend time on the disabled list.
“Kendall’s our ace right now,” Semien said. “Kendall gives us a chance every time.”
While he did not pitch in the A’s series at Boston in May, Graveman said he had not ignored the results there and of the previous two nights in Oakland.
“You see what they’ve done to us in the past five games and you kind of take it personal as a team,” Graveman said. “Because they are a good team, and we want to compete against the best in this league and prove that we can win some of these close ballgames against teams that are going to be playoff teams.”