In preparation for today's game, I watched the film Weekend At Bernie's. You see, the popularity of the Berney dance in Oakland has risen to the level that actor Terry Kiser (who played Bernie in the films) threw out the ceremonial first pitch while 20,000 fans waved little cutouts of his head. So, I watched the film, and it was just as I remembered: a solid comedy based mostly on physical humor, which is enjoyable but not groundbreaking. If I had to rate it on the spectrum of movies, I would put it just about exactly in the middle. It is perfectly average.
I can't say the same about these two baseball teams. Right now, the Oakland A's and Boston Red Sox are on totally opposite ends of the spectrum. The A's are firing on all cylinders; their pitching staff is unbeatable, their hitters are mashing, the players and fans are having a blast, and everything is falling their way. The Red Sox are hurtling into a black hole inside of another black hole. They are simply falling apart, in every way that a baseball team can. Players are underperforming, getting hurt, getting traded, fighting each other, fighting the manager...it's been a magnificent meltdown over the last 11 months. Scott Podsednik was batting 3rd tonight. James Loney was batting 5th. I mean...the Red Sox.
Given that premise, this game went about as you would have expected. A.J. Griffin took a perfect game into the 5th inning, Coco Crisp and Chris Carter homered, and the A's shut down the Red Sox in a game which never felt close. Continue after the jump for the details!
Let's start by talking about A.J. Griffin. He was good today. I mean, I remember him being solid before his injury, but he looked downright nasty today. He was getting a fair amount of strikes with his fastball (88-91mph), and then putting hitters away with his change-up and a slow, biting curveball. When I say "slow," I mean 70mph or less. It was just a filthy pitch, and he mixed it in very effectively. I was really impressed with him overall tonight.
While Griffin was busy retiring the first 12 Boston hitters, the A's were taking care of business on offense. Coco Crisp led off the game with a home run off of Felix Doubront, because he used to play for Boston and the rule is that one of Oakland's former Red Sox has to homer in every game against their old team. I don't write the rules, I just report them to you.
Doubront made it through the 2nd inning without any more damage, but Coco led off the 3rd inning with an infield single to short. The next batter, Jonny Gomes, drilled a double into the left field corner. Mike Gallego, knowing that left fielder Podsednik is famous for his noodle arm, decided to wave Coco home. However, Podsednik hit his cutoff man, shortstop Mike Aviles, who then relayed a perfect strike to catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia to nail Coco at the plate. Now, to be fair, it took an absolutely perfect throw to make that play. With that said, though, I think that it was the wrong move to send the runner. There was nobody out, and the 3-4-5 hitters were coming up. If there had been 2 outs, or if it was later in the game, I would have understood. But making the first out of the 3rd inning on a play like that is not something that I'd like to see Gallego make a habit of. I generally appreciate his aggressiveness, though, so in the grand scheme of things I'm not too bothered by this.
As it turned out, Boston was going to need the help. After striking out Josh Reddick, Doubront just lost it. Yoenis Cespedes singled to drive in Gomes, and then stole 2nd and 3rd bases, on consecutive pitches, without sliding either time. Chris Carter walked, and then Brandon Inge drove the ball to deep right field. Cody Ross nearly made a leaping catch at the wall, even getting his glove on the ball, but he couldn't squeeze it and Inge had a 2-run double. That's pretty much how things are going for these two teams right now. Derek Norris followed with a single to make it 5-0, and the game was essentially over. It felt that way at the time, and it turned out that way in the end. There were still 6 innings to play, and this one already felt like it was in the books.
With the story virtually written, Alfredo Aceves entered in the 4th inning for comic relief. He has been something of a punch-line lately; after blowing a bunch of saves and being generally inconsistent all year, he apparently lost it when he found out that Boston was going to replace him as the closer with Andrew Bailey. You know, two-time All-Star closer Andrew Bailey. The dispute ended in a suspension; Boston Being Boston. He probably spent his time off eating fried chicken and drinking beer, am I right? Aceves came out today and promptly made one of the oddest errors I've ever seen. Jonny Gomes popped the ball straight up, and Saltalamacchia camped out under it, waiting to make a routine catch. Aceves, however, came charging off the mound and inexplicably tried to go after the ball. Salty, surprised and likely confused, peeled off at the last second as the ball clanked off of Aceves's glove. As fate would have it, Gomes ultimately popped up to Salty again, for realsies this time, but it's tough to figure out what Aceves was thinking there.
Entering the 5th inning, Griffin was working on a perfect game. He got the first two outs, but then Salty laid down a bunt to third base to beat the infield shift and get the Sox first hit of the game. Some people may have a problem with this move, but I really don't. Yes, it's a lame way to break up a perfect game, but that really shouldn't matter. The hitter is trying to get on base and start a rally against a tough pitcher, and the defense is giving him a golden opportunity to do so by opening themselves up to a bunt. End of story. The goal is to win, not to appreciate history being set against you.
Although everything was coming up A's on the field, there was some bad news as well. Brandon Inge re-injured his shoulder making a throw to 1st, and had to leave the game. The prognosis is quite negative; Inge appears to be done for the year and will require surgery to repair his shoulder. Luckily, Josh Donaldson is expected to be ready to go tomorrow, so the A's should be able to move on without missing a beat. It was still a tough break on an otherwise happy night, though.
Inge's replacement in the game was Cliff Pennington. With one out in the 5th, Penny singled, stole second, and scored on a single by Norris. 6-0. This is just how things are going for the A's right now. Donaldson banged up? It's cool, Inge is ready to come off the DL. Inge banged up? It's cool, Penny will come in and immediately manufacture a run. These guys are just unstoppable right now.
Boston finally mustered a faint squeak in the 6th. They got somebody named Pedro Ciriaco to 2nd base with two outs, which was the most impressive thing that they had done thus far in the game. Dustin Pedroia then singled to left, and Cespedes unleashed a bullet to the plate. Close your eyes and imagine every throw you've ever seen Cespedes make, and this one was just like those. Unbelievably powerful, and uncannily accurate. However, home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi took pity on the Red Sox and called Ciriaco safe. Replays would suggest that the tag just barely beat Ciricao, but it was an extremely close play and I can't complain about Cuzzi's call. Newbob came out to argue, and then remembered that he was playing the Red Sox and it was 6-1 before politely excusing himself and returning to the dugout.
Oakland would score one more run, when Carter led off the 7th with a homer off of Daniel Bard. Otherwise, this one was over. Griffin finished 7 innings, allowing 3 hits without a walk, and Pat Neshek came in to record the final 6 outs without a problem. Griffin's ERA is now 2.26, and his K:BB is 4.0. Andrew Bailey made an appearance for the Red Sox, striking out Cespedes on a foul tip to end the 8th. Around the league, the Orioles lost their game, giving Oakland a 2-game lead for the top Wild Card spot, and Texas went down as well, reducing their division lead to 3 games.
There's not much to say about this team that hasn't already been said. They are absolutely rolling right now. Losing Inge is tough, but to be honest, Donaldson has been playing so well lately that he may have locked up the 3rd base job anyway. It's nice to see Griffin come back strong from his injury, and everything about this team is just the best.
It's Bernie Weekend at the Coliseum, and the Red Sox are playing the part well. They have stumbled around the field these last two games, doing their best impression of Terry Kiser's famous party-loving corpse, and Oakland has taken full advantage by outscoring them 27-3 so far. Baseball is beautiful, life is beautiful, and I can't wait to do it all over again tomorrow.
Oakland goes for the sweep tomorrow at 1:05pm. Brett Anderson faces Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was last seen allowing 5 runs to the A's while recording only 3 outs. This should be fun.