Khris Davis’ reputation for hitting home runs preceded him on the Oakland Athletics’ trip to Japan, even among some of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters’ own sluggers.
The Oakland star showed the Fighters what the fuss was all about in his club’s final game before the regular season.
Davis connected on a three-run home run to left to even the score at 6-6 in the top of the ninth, the Fighters failed to score in the bottom half and the final exhibition between the two teams ended in a tie on Monday afternoon at Tokyo Dome.
“It’s obvious there were things we did well and things we didn’t do well,” Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama said. “This isn’t a regular season game, however, everybody wanted to win.”
They nearly did, overcoming an early 1-0 deficit and entering the ninth leading 6-2.
Ramon Laureano began the top of the inning with a single and Josh Phegley was hit by pitcher Naoya Ishikawa. The Fighters reliever retired the next two batters, although he gave up a run when Laureano managed to score on a wild pitch. He then walked Mark Canha to put two on for Davis.
The reigning MLB home run king — he hit 48 last season — then connected on slider that was left up and sent the ball deep to left to even the score with a three-run shot.
Oakland reliever J.B. Wendelken retired the Fighters in order in the bottom half.
While Nippon Ham will continue on with the preseason — the Pacific League club will face the Yomiuri Giants in Kofu on Wednesday — Oakland’s next game will be the MLB season opener against the Seattle Mariners on March 20 at Tokyo Dome.
“I think they’re (the A’s players) ready to go,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Not typical of us, we made some errors today. We usually don’t do that, and that opened the doors for how they play their game. I think their first four runs were either on an error that we made or a leadoff walk, which kind of puts their game in motion.”
Oakland infielder Matt Chapman definitely looked ready, finishing 2-for-2 with a walk one night after going 3-for-3 with two walks.
“They’re our key players for sure,” Melvin said of Chapman and Davis. “You want to get good at-bats toward the end of spring leading into the season. It lends for some confidence. When you get on base eight straight times when you’re going into the season, he’s pretty confident.
“And then KD saved his best for last, as we’ve seen him do so many times. Everybody was talking in the dugout, we’ve seen this situation before, when he was up there. So it wasn’t a surprise to us.
“But these are two, not only two of our best players, but two of the best players in the league, and they’re recognized that way.”
Takuya Nakashima drove in a run with a squeeze bunt in the fifth and Wang Po-jung, Kenshi Sugaya and Toshitake Yokoo and Kazunari Ishii also recorded RBIs for Nippon Ham.
Fighters starter Yuki Saito also found things to build off of, despite allowing a home run against Stephen Piscotty in the second.
“I made a mistake on the home run and I’m disappointed in myself,” Saito said. “But it was great for me to pitch against the major leaguers. As a baseball player, this is the kind of game I could enjoy.”
The former high school star and first-round draft pick is hopeful of taking the positives he’s had this spring into the regular season, which begins March 29. The homer was the only Saito allowed in his two innings.
“I’m trying to focus on each pitch and trying to beat each batter one at a time,” Saito said. “I’d like to keep this mindset after the season starts.”
The teams split their two exhibition games, with Oakland winning 5-1 on Sunday.
“It was really good baseball,” Chapman said. “They played really fundamentally sound baseball and they didn’t give us any extra opportunities. They played really good defense and they took really good at-bats.”