Bullpen delivers, Oakland beats Tampa Bay in 12th on game-winning "Gomer"

Gomer, noun, (ˈgō-mər): A homer hit by Jonny Gomes


The Oakland Athletics are putting the "extra" back in "extra innings."

The A's have reached extra frames four times this season, and those games have lasted 11, 12, 14, and 12 innings, respectively. No 10-inning cheapies for the green and gold; if it isn't over after 9, then it's time to settle in for a marathon. Tonight, Oakland out-lasted Tampa Bay on the strength of a Jonny Gomes home run in the top of the 12th (or, as user VidaBlueMoonOdom dubbed it in the Game Thread, a "Gomer").

Honestly, I don't even know where to start with this one. Usually, I'm able to tie everything together with some sort of central theme. This game was sloppy, wild, and strangely riveting. That's not a very good theme. It was a battle of the bullpens, with relievers combining to throw 15.1 innings. No, that's not it either. There were 5 home runs in a game with only 7 total runs, with both teams combining to leave 24 men on base. Hmm, this isn't going well. This game was so all over the place that it can't be condensed into one snappy intro. Hey, that's it! The theme is that there is no theme. What a twist!

Join me after the jump for a look inside this sloppy extra inning battle of the bullpens where no one could drive in a run or catch a popup or call a proper strike zone (yeah, even the ump sucked).

If I remember correctly, the game was started by Bartolo Colon and Jeremy Hellickson. It's difficult to say; I'm pretty sure they started playing this one last night. Things got started quickly, with Josh Reddick crushing a solo homer off of Hellickson in the 1st. Not to be one-upped by some stupid kid, Colon would eventually allow three solo homers, leading off three consecutive innings (the 3rd, 4th, and 5th). Anything Hellickson can do, you can do better, right Bartolo?

After Reddick's shot in the first, Oakland capitalized on a mistake by the Rays in the 3rd. Cliff Pennington hit a routine grounder to Ben Zobrist, but it went straight past the 2nd baseman and into right-center field. Pennington mustered up all of the grit and hustle he could find in his tiny little body, and made it all the way to 2nd on the error. With two outs, Kila Ka'aihue hit a bloop which fell in left field for an RBI single and a 2-0 lead.

Then, Elliot Johnson homered to lead off the 3rd. The lead was cut to 2-1.

In the 4th, Oakland rallied again, with a single by Daric Barton and a walk to Pennington. Hellickson, having thrown 102 pitches, gave way to reliever J.P. Howell. Reddick hit a clean single to center to plate Barton and give the A's a 3-1 lead.

Then, Ben Zobrist homered to lead off the 4th. The lead was cut to 3-2.

Oakland went down quietly in their next ups, but were still probably fairly happy with how the game was going. They had a lead, the Rays' starter was out of the game, and they were cinco innings away from a sweet Cinco de Mayo celebration.

Then, Carlos Pena homered to lead off the 5th. Lead gone; game tied, 3-3.

The next 6 innings were fairly uneventful, if you're interested in good baseball and runs being scored. If you like watching Little League due to its excitingly sloppy game-play, rather than the fact that your kid is on the team, then you may have found the next 6 innings very eventful. It was full of boneheaded errors, botched bunts, untimely walks and HBP's, and nary a runner crossing the plate.

Then, Jonny Gomes homered to lead off the 12th. Lead restored, 4-3.

Grant Balfour came in to close the door in the bottom of the 12th, which was a ballsy move considering that his last 4 appearances had resulted in two blown saves and 6 earned runs. He picked up right where he left off, allowing a leadoff single to B.J. Upton. This time, however, he settled down, inducing a popup by Pena and a 5-6-3 double play by Matt Joyce. A's win!

Now, about that sloppy game-play. I understand that it is very difficult to play baseball in a dome, because the ball blends in with the ceiling. What I don't understand is why fielders aren't charged with errors when routine fly balls land at their feet. Losing the ball in the ceiling (or the sun) sounds an awful lot like an error to me. It's neat that you have an excuse as to WHY you dropped the ball, other than "My name is Jack Cust." You still dropped it, though. Didn't even get leather on it. That's not how the scoring rules work in baseball, however, further leading me to wonder why we still bother counting errors in 2012. The plays in question included:

  • Rays third baseman Will Rhymes losing a high popup off the bat of Daric Barton, which landed several feet away from him
  • Barton, Reddick, and Jemile Weeks converging on a fly to shallow right, with Barton colliding with Weeks and allowing a catchable ball to drop (this counted as a double for Sean Rodriguez, whereas I would have given Barton an error for botching the play)
  • Rays catcher Chris Gimenez losing a pop-up behind the plate which should have been a routine foul-out

However, it wasn't just the defense that struggled tonight. Each team also botched a crucial extra-inning bunt:

  • 10th inning, Jonny Gomes on 1st (on a leadoff, 4-pitch walk). Kila Ka'aihue inexplicably tries to lay down a sacrifice bunt, but instead pops it up to the pitcher for an easy out. This was a double-fail. On one hand, it was just a terrible bunt by Kila. On the other hand, he really never should have been bunting in the first place. Kila is one of the hottest hitters on the team, he's put down a total of 5 successful sac bunts since 2007, and the on-deck batter was Kurt Suzuki, whose .564 OPS is a pretty solid indicator of his hitting ability. There was just no reason to attempt this play. Sure, conventional wisdom might state that you should bunt the runner over with no outs in extra innings. Context matters, though, and if the hitter at the plate can't bunt, then you shouldn't pretend that he can. This was a mistake by Bob Melvin, in my opinion.
  • 11th inning, Rodriguez is on 3rd base after his aforementioned "double." Elliot Johnson attempts a squeeze bunt on a 1-2 count, but the pitch is outside and he bunts it foul for strike three. Whoops.
And a couple of other gripes that I'd like to get out of the way:

  • In the 10th, after Kila's failed bunt, Tampa Bay pitcher Brandon Gomes hit Kurt Suzuki with a pitch and then walked Barton. The dude was straight wild. With the bases loaded and one out, Melvin allowed Brandon Inge to hit. I can understand wanting Inge to stay in a close game for his defense, but I would have pinch-hit Eric Sogard in that spot. Sogard is a very patient hitter with a great eye, and Inge is a very bad hitter with regular human eyes. Predictably, Inge struck out, even though Gomes resorted to throwing stright fastballs down the middle of the plate. You have to wonder if Sogard could have drawn another walk, or made some sort of contact to drive in a run.
  • Jemile Weeks needs a day off. He is pressing, and he looks bad. He went 0-6 today, and didn't make good contact in any of his at-bats. He is elevating everything that he hits, resulting in lazy fly balls rather than the sharp liners of yesteryear. Furthermore, it was pointed out to me that he failed to properly run out his rally-ending grounder in the 10th, which is always a bad sign from a young player. I think that he's struggling, he's frustrated, and he needs to get out of the leadoff spot until he regains his mojo. He's not helping the team right now, and needs a good shakeup to get him back on track.
That probably sounds like a lot of negativity for a game which the A's won. Luckily for you, I was saving the happy stuff for the end. Yay! A couple of highlights to wrap things up:

  • The Oakland bullpen was dynamite today, and so was Melvin's use of them. Four relievers combined to throw 7 innings, allowing just 4 baserunners. Jordan Norberto threw 2 perfect innings. Ryan Cook threw two innings, allowing only a jam-shot single to Jeff Keppinger. Brian Fuentes threw 2 innings, and allowed two baserunners, but they were hardly his fault. In the 10th, he hit Matt Joyce with a pitch. The pitch didn't really hit Joyce, though; rather, it brushed his ridiculously baggy jersey as he tried to back away. In the 11th, he was the beneficiary of Rodriguez's "double," which should really have been an easy out. Balfour breezed through his inning, serving up the only solid hit allowed by an Oakland reliever.
  • Jonny Gomes. Just everything about Jonny Gomes. The crazy part is that Gomes didn't even start this game. He pinch-hit for Seth Smith in the 7th, drawing walks in his first two plate appearances before hitting the deciding homer in the 12th. Defensively, he made an incredible catch in the 10th, robbing Carlos Pena of what should have been extra bases with a leaping grab at the wall. Gomes was great today, and he was absolutely the difference in this game. He has a .973 OPS, and 3 of his 5 homers are off of right-handers. Gomes should be playing every day at this point.

That's all for tonight. The A's climb back to .500 once again, and improve to 3-1 in extra inning games. The over/under for tomorrow's finale is 13 innings.

Oakland and Tampa Bay meet tomorrow morning in the rubber match, at 10:40am. It will be a duel of rookie left-handers, with Tommy Milone facing Matt Moore.

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