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OAKLAND – Based on spring training, the A’s weren’t going to win this one. But Oakland inaugurated Rickey Henderson Field with a 4-2 win over the Angels by doing the things they didn’t much do during the spring.
Khris Davis, who wasn’t going deep all that often even in batting practice, hammered two solo home runs. The bullpen, only so-so during the Cactus League got a four-man tag-team to back up six strong inning from starter Kendall Graveman.
And just like that the A’s had just their second opening day win in the last dozen years.
“It doesn’t much matter what happens in Arizona,” catcher Stephen Vogt said. He got the A’s on the scoreboard early with a solo homer in his first at-bat. “It what happens when the lights come on.”
There were lights aplenty Monday, starting with the naming of the field for the Oakland-raised Henderson, who thanked both the organization and the fans in a pregame ceremony saluting him. And the saluting didn’t stop.
“It was a pretty special day with Rickey, just an exciting day,” Davis said. “Just to feel the fans. It’s good to be home.
“It was pretty great to know it’s there, that there’s a little bit of hope that if I’m not swinging it well in BP. But I’d rather swing it good in the game than in BP. It takes me some time to get going.”
The A’s saw that last year. While he finished with big numbers, including 42 homers and 102 RBI, last year, April of 2016 was a wasteland for Davis.
He said all spring that he didn’t want to start slow again, but hit just .244 with no homers in the spring, the A’s didn’t know what they might have early on. But with the game tied 2-2 in the sixth, Davis hit his first one into the cheap seats. With Oakland’s bullpen trying to nail down a win for starter Kendall Graveman, Davis added a second homer to give Santiago Casilla some breathing room in the ninth.
Graveman, the opening day starter with Sonny Gray on the disabled list, was stung by one pitch, a cutter he hung to Mike Trout that the defending MVP hit a ton with a man on in the fourth for a 2-1 Angels lead. Graveman went on to pitch six innings and the Angels couldn’t touch him for another run.
Graveman’s teammates were impressed.
“He can cut some bats,” Davis said of Graveman’s sinker. “That’s where wood goes to die.”
Graveman was a little down on himself for the Trout homer, which came only moments after Vogt’s homer had given the A’s the lead. But he found some validation in allowing just two singles and a walk after that, the two hits coming with two out and no one on base.
That meant he could turn the game over to the bullpen with the lead.
Ryan Dull struck out all three men he faced in the seventh. Sean Doolittle got two quick outs in the eighth and Ryan Madson was asked to face Trout.
“That’s not a matchup you’d ever volunteer for,” Madson said with a smile. “But I like the challenge.”
Trout got an end-of-the-bat double, but Madson issued a no-pitch intentional walk under baseball’s new rules, then pitched out of the inning, leaving it to Casilla to finish it up.
Casilla, who said he knew he’d be the closer in the opener even while manager Bob Melvin wouldn’t make that public, had lost his job as closer with the Giants late in 2016. The A’s will use more than one closer, but Casilla is off to a smooth start. He allowed a one-out walk but had an inning without much tension.
Khris Davis became just the second player in a half century of Oakland baseball to homer twice on opening day, the other being Jason Giambi in 2000. Davis has 12 multi-homer games. He’s also the first A’s player with three hits in an opener in 15 years.
Stephen Vogt has at least one hit in all three of his opening day starts, and his homer was his second in an opener.
For Casilla, who has 128 career big league saves, Monday’s was just the second to come on opening day.
Rajai Davis couldn’t have been more honored to be the leadoff hitter Monday when the A’s named the turf at the Coliseum after Rickey Henderson. “It’s great that I’m here to be leading off on the night they’re naming the field after the greatest leadoff hitter ever,” Davis said. “Opening day is always special, but this makes it that much more so.” Henderson has become both friend and mentor. “I’m still trying to learn and what better teacher is there? Davis said. “He’s great at giving advice, and there isn’t much he hasn’t seen. He’s very open about helping, and it’s great that he’s going to be here more now.”
Tuesday starter Sean Manaea said one of the best things about being the No.2 man in the rotation is that he gets to take in the opening night festivities in a way that Monday starter Kendall Graveman couldn’t. “It’s nice to be able to line up on the third base line with the team and be able to see the field dedicated to Rickey. I’m excited to see how all the pre-game stuff goes.”
Sonny Gray will throw off a mound Tuesday, the first time he’ll have done so since the A’s shut him down due to a right lat muscle strain mid-March. Assuming he remains pain free, Gray could be back in the rotation sometime in the second half of April.
There was one A’s player changing his number to start the season, Frankie Montas moving from 72 to 47.
The A’s opening day roster has an average age of 29.24 years, the second-oldest average age over the course of the last 13 years, topped only by last year’s 29.28. At 24 years, 13 days, Montas is the youngest player on the squad, followed by Raul Alcantara at 24 years, 120 days.
Oakland begins the season with five players on the disabled list for the third consecutive season. Last year the A’s used the DL an Oakland record 27 times with the players missing a combined 1,810 games.
There were four players from last year’s opening day lineup, Khris Davis, Jed Lowrie, Marcus Semien and Stephen Vogt. Of the four, only Vogt and Semien have been in the opening day lineup in both of the last two years.