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Guerra, Harrison come up big as Oakland A’s capture key series victory in Kansas City

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Guerra, Harrison come up big as Oakland A’s capture key series victory in Kansas City

The Oakland A’s needed an uneventful day from their pitching staff to seal a much-needed series victory. Given the way the starters and bullpen have struggled of late, drama never seems far off the coast.

On getaway day following back-to-back four-hour marathon games, the A’s pitching staff kept all the drama at bay. The A’s beat the Kansas City Royals 7-2 on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium to claim a key series as they attempt to climb back into a wild card spot.

“That’s what it’s all about from the start of the season, but especially now,” Chad Pinder said. “Try to win series, try to take each day as they come. One day at a time. For us to bounce back after such a tough loss in the first game shows a good bit of resiliency in not letting down. You gotta like that going forward.”

Paul Blackburn, the day’s starter, recorded his first win since 2018 after gutting out five innings. Salvador Perez’s 45th home run of the year — tying Johnny Bench in 1970 for most home runs by a catcher in a season — put Blackburn through some trouble early, giving the Royals an early lead with a two-run home run in the first inning.

While holding a 4-2 lead in the fifth, Blackburn was pulled with the go-ahead run at the plate with no outs down for Deolis Guerra.

Guerra retired the side on 10 pitches without allowing an inherited run score. Then he turned in a scoreless seventh inning, too, getting Perez into an inning-ending ground out on the first pitch with a pair of runners on base.

“Yusmeiro Petit-esque,” manager Bob Melvin said. “Probably his best performance for us this year.”

One three-run outing is the only blemish on Guerra’s recent stretch of dominance; he’s helped hold the bullpen together while the rest navigate pitching with tired arms. Save for that appearance in Detroit, Guerra has allowed just one run in 17 innings since Aug. 17.

“The last few outings, to come in and get multiple innings in huge leverage situations and to do it against a team swinging the bats like the Royals, that was massive for us,” Pinder said.

Running counter to the league-wide trend of deploying flame-throwing relievers, the A’s bullpen is built on arms that pitch to contact. Whereas high velocity can help fuel other staffs through fatigue now setting in, the A’s don’t have that luxury. Where often this disadvantage blows up in their face, the veteran staff is capable of making do.

Andrew Chafin, who relies on pitching for the ground ball, took advantage of a swing-happy Royals lineup by weaponizing his slider to collect two strikeouts and escape a scoring threat in the eighth inning. Sergio Romo, coming off a two-run outing in the A’s loss to start the series, bounced back with a clean ninth inning.

Guerra and the bullpen weren’t the only heroes of the day. Josh Harrison played hero not just on Thursday, but for the entire series.

The A’s infielder is owning new roles that have helped elevate his team, both filling in for Matt Chapman at third base while he nurses a swollen foot and for Mark Canha in the leadoff spot. While Chapman’s absence is usually felt at third base, Harrison’s clutch double play in Wednesday’s win and impact overall made the temporary fix easy.

On Thursday, Harrison added four hits and two RBI to a seven-hit, seven-RBI series.

Harrison’s second hit of the day on the day scored two runs to kick off long third inning. After Perez’s home run, a pair of defensive mishaps from Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield helped nudge the A’s into the lead.

First with runners on first and second, Merrifield threw Starling Marte’s potential double-play ball to a defender not yet on second base to load the bases without an out.

Matt Olson couldn’t capitalize, facing both Royals starter Daniel Lynch — who was removed from the game with a full count in the at-bat with calf tightness — then lining into a double play against Joel Payamps’s first pitch.

The A’s caught another break when Merrifield ignored the easy out at first on Jed Lowrie’s ground ball and, instead, failed in his attempt to throw out Harrison making a wide turn at third base. Pinder capitalized, knocking a two-run single into left field to give the A’s a two-run lead.

To be safe, they’d add on in the ninth inning, too. And Harrison was right in the mix. With shadows creeping over home plate disrupting the Royals pitchers and catchers’ depth perception, Oakland added three runs with the help of four wild pitches and Harrison’s fourth hit and seventh RBI of the series.

“That guy is unbelievable,” Pinder said. “I don’t know if there’s a better word for it. What he’s been able to do with the bat, but what he does at every position, to me, is more impressive. He plays second, short, third, outfield spot at elite levels. It’s not fill in and get by, it’s elite defense at every level.”

Harrison is batting .299 in 35 games since the A’s acquired him from the Washington Nationals on July 30.

“That’s a guy that’s been a huge bright spot in this lineup,” Pinder said.

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