OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - In this strange season, there were no rehab assignments or minor league at-bats for injured players like Chad Pinder to regain their timing before stepping right back into a major league batter’s box.
That meant rushing to return and being ready for a playoff round the Oakland Athletics needed to win to end a 20-year stretch of minimal postseason success.
TA’s manager Bob Melvin had little concern about Pinder’s ability to quickly find his stroke again despite missing time with a hamstring injury down the stretch.
Still, Pinder had no idea if he would make it back at full strength, or even close it.
“I didn’t know. I just tried to stay positive,” Pinder said. “Everybody’s kind of dealing with something at this point in the year. I knew I just had to get it to a place where I could play through it and kind of just play smart on it.
“I don’t know if I’ll be 100 percent or how that’s going to play out the rest of the year. As long as I continue to do the things I’m doing in the training room and be smart with my work, really focusing what I’m doing in the games, I’m very confident I’ll be fine. That was my mindset through those two weeks that I sat out,” he said.
So far, he is certainly doing his part.
Pinder hit a go-ahead, two-run single in the fifth inning of Thursday’s 6-4 win against the Chicago White Sox that sent the AL West champion A’s into the Division Series starting Monday against the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium.
It has been players like Pinder and slugger Khris Davis the A’s look to as leaders even when they are going through slumps or soreness that affect their ability to be at their best.
“These guys really rally around those type of guys,” Melvin said. “It’s not hard to really pull for those guys and have a lot of faith in them.”
Pinder has been a dependable super utilityman playing almost anywhere on the diamond, regularly sparking the A’s off the bench - just as he did again Thursday.
The 28-year-old Pinder, part of Oakland’s wild-card game losses in 2018 and ‘19, was sidelined by a strained right hamstring and on the injured list for two weeks before returning Sept. 27 to play the final day of the regular season.
“We’ve missed him,” Melvin noted before the best-of-three wild card round.
“Hard road. You don’t get any at-bats. You have one game’s worth of a couple at-bats, not playing in the field, then all of a sudden you’re thrust into playing a position and coming off the bench doing all the things he normally does,” he added later. “It’s not easy to do. And when I talk about your best and toughest players, he’s one of those guys.”
Pinder and Jake Lamb also have provided steady defense with big shoes to fill after Gold Glove third baseman Matt Chapman was lost to a season-ending hip injury that required surgery.
They know it’s hard to duplicate the dazzling defense that makes Chapman one of baseball’s best at his position.
“I’ll start by saying that really there’s no replacing Matt Chapman,” Pinder said, “not only on the field but in the clubhouse what he brings in that regard, the leadership stuff. He’s our vocal leader. To replace him in the field and at the plate, you’ve got to go out there and not focus on stuff like that it would kind of play out of your game.”
Pinder got to work immediately, starting as designated hitter in Tuesday’s opening loss, then at third in a Game 2 win before being called upon off the bench in the clincher.
Oakland stopped a nine-game losing streak in winner-take-all postseason games, a major league record that dated to the 1973 World Series. The A’s had lost six straight playoff series since sweeping Minnesota in the 2006 Division Series, starting with when Detroit swept Oakland in that year’s Championship Series.
In addition, Oakland had gone 1-15 in potential clinchers since 2000.
Now, Melvin will continue to count on Pinder’s ability to play almost anywhere.
“He’s one of the leaders in our clubhouse, one of those guys everyone respects,” closer Liam Hendriks said. “His versatility in the lineup is huge - not only the way he swings the bat, but also the way he plays every single position. He’s trusted at every single position. You could probably put him behind the plate and he’d do a good job.”
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