The word of the day is "sweep." Actually, that is the word of the month so far for the Oakland A's. After sweeping the Indians and Red Sox to build a 9-game winning streak, the A's were themselves swept at the hands of the Angels. Snapping a winning streak by getting swept at home by your most hated rival? What a buzzkill. That's the kind of thing that could really kill the vibe, if you let it. Fortunately, the A's stood back up, dusted themselves off, flew to Seattle and swept the Mariners. If only the Golden State Warriors could learn to rebound as well as the Oakland Athletics just did, they might finally be a good team.
With a 4-2 victory over the Seamen, the A's have run their record to 79-60 and increased their Wild Card lead to 1.5 games over their nearest competitor (Baltimore, who currently holds the 2nd Wild Card after their loss to the Yankees). Oakland only trails division-leading Texas by 3.5 games, after the Rangers were shut out by James Shields and the Rays.
Today's contest was largely the story of three guys: Tommy Milone's pitching, Jonny Gomes's hitting, and Josh Reddick's defense. Milone struck out 10 Sailors in 6 innings of solid work, Gomes delivered the decisive 3-run Gomer in the 5th, and Reddick spent the whole day making diving catches and crushing opponents' dreams. Read on for the details!
Today's game featured two identical starting pitchers: Seattle's Jason Vargas and Oakland's Tommy Milone. Both are soft-tossing lefties with 88mph fastballs, elite change-ups which they throw 25% of the time, and league-average ERA's. Experienced fans were digging in, ready for the 0-0 score to last into the 8th inning. A's/Mariners games are often just the worst.
This one did indeed start out slowly. The A's picked up a few baserunners in the first two innings, but couldn't do anything with them. The Mariners wished that they had that kind of success in the first two innings. Instead, they sent 6 "hitters" to the plate, and 5 of them struck out. Swinging. Against Milone. Listen, I love Milone, but he's not supposed to strike out 5 batters in 2 innings over any stretch of any game. However, Milone had all of his pitches working: two of the K's came on change-ups, two on curveballs, and one on a fastball. Filthy.
Fast forward to the 5th inning. No, I mean seriously, fast forwad if you're watching on DVR. That's what I wish I could have done, because that's when this game truly started. Vargas had just retired his 9th straight batter, and was facing Adam Rosales with two outs in the 5th. Good grief. 9 straight outs by Vargas? I have nightmares about the Mariners fielding a team of Vargas and 9 Brendan Ryan's, and beating the A's 1-0 over and over. I'm pretty sure that would have been Dante's special circle of Hell for steroid-users. I'm starting to drift off to....zzzzz
Wake up, Alex! Whew, thanks. The nightmare was even worse this time. Glen Kuiper was yelling "he hits that one deep!" on routine grounders to short, and I was getting faked out every time. Alright, back to reality. Rosales is up, there are two outs in the 5th, and no one can figure out Vargas. But wait, what's this? Rosales lines a clean single to center! And on the next pitch, Coco rips another single to left! That's more like it. The A's were putting together a 2-out rally, and Jonny Gomes, the Pride of Petaluma, was coming up to bat.
Now, Gomes hasn't been playing a lot lately. He started on August 24th, and has made only 4 starts since then. His last at-bat before today came on Septmeber 4th, and he struck out. So, he may have been a bit rusty. That is literally the only reason I can imagine that the Mariners chose to pitch to him in this at-bat. For goodness sake, in his first plate appearance he took a fastball to the kneecap without even flinching. The dude is made of adamantium. You want to mess with that? The moment he strode to the plate, my immediate thought was, "If it was me, I'd pitch around Gomes and take my chances with Reddick." Not only would Reddick pose a preferable lefty/lefty match-up for Vargas, but he has been slumping pretty bad lately and has been slumping even worse with runners in scoring position. I figured that this was a no-brainer move.
The Mariners disagreed. They went after Gomes. Bad choice. Gomes sent the 1-1 pitch 409 feet to left, nearly depositing it in the 2nd deck. 3-0 A's.
Seattle came right back and made some noise in the bottom of the inning, though. Alex Liddi singled and, with two outs, stole 2nd despite nearly being picked off by Milone. Tommy threw to 1st, but Liddi got such a good jump that he beat Carter's throw and wound up safe. It wouldn't matter, though, because Michael Saunders tripled into the right field corner, which would have scored Liddi from any base he may have been standing on at the time. Milone then quickly struck out Jesus Montero to end the rally.
The M's threatened again in the 6th. Kyle Seager led off the frame with a solo homer into the first row of the seats in right-field to cut the lead to 3-2. Miguel Olivo followed that with a single, and suddenly Milone looked hittable. Sure, he'd racked up 8 strikeouts, but when the Mariners were making contact, it was of the solid variety. Could he record 3 more outs and escape with a quality start? Yes, yes he could. He induced a popout by Casper Wells, and then struck out Mike Carp and Alex Liddi to end the inning. All told, Milone went 6 innings, striking out 10 (all swinging) without issuing a walk. He allowed some contact, and there were a couple of fly balls which may have been homers in other parks, but he took care of business in the same way that he usually does: Don't give the opponent anything, and make them earn everything. With a couple of ill-placed walks, this could have been a completely different game. Instead, Milone minimized the damage by not causing any of it himself.
That was pretty much the game. Four Oakland relievers (Neshek, Blevins, Cook, and Balfour) combined to allow one hit in the final 3 innings, and Josh Donaldson added a huge insurance run in the 9th with a solo homer to left. The ERA's of the four relievers that Oakland sent out today: 0.66, 2.56, 2.54, 2.73. That's a thing of beauty.
One of the most impressive things about this series against the Mariners was the identities of the players who did the heavy lifting. Josh Reddick, Yoenis Cespedes, and Chris Carter went a combined 4-for-33 and drove in one run. With the heart of the order struggling, their teammates picked them up. We all know about George Kottaras and his two big homers, but everyone in the lineup chipped in this weekend. Donaldson went 3-for-10, Seth Smith had a pair of 2-hit games, Coco reached base 5 times, Stephen Drew had 4 hits and a couple RBI, and even Cliff Pennington went 4-for-4 in the opener. Add in Rosey's rally-starting hit and Gomes's blast, and you have a true team effort.
Not all contributions are made on offense, though. Reddick may be struggling at the plate, but his defense is still as strong as ever. The very first out of the game for Milone came when he allowed a sharp liner to Franklin Gutierrez. Had the ball dropped in for a single, no one would have thought twice about it. However, Reddick sprinted forward and made a diving catch to get things started on the right foot. In the interest of symmetry, he did something similar at the end of the game. John Jaso led off the 9th against Grant Balfour with a cue shot which just barely found fair territory down the left-field line. One out later, Eric Thames hit a flare into right which seemed destined to find the shallow hole in Oakland's no-doubles defense. Instead, Reddick came charging forward and made a diving catch which was nearly identical to the one he'd made in the 1st. A casual fan may not have thought twice about it, but the fact is that that catch changed the game. Another right fielder may not cover that ground, and the ball could fall in. Then, you have the tying run on base and the winning run at the plate with 1 out. Instead, Balfour only had the tying run coming to the plate, and he had 2 outs. Those are two different ballgames, and it's all thanks to Reddick's glove. He has his flaws, and there are adjustments that he needs to make to his hitting approach if he hopes to improve, but this guy is a complete player. I wasn't that stoked about him when Beane acquired him, but the sky is the limit for a guy with his abilities.
And with that, the sweep is complete. The Athletics now travel down the coast to Anaheim, where they seek revenge against the red-hot Angels. For the Halos, it's a chance to completely change the Wild Card race. For the A's, it's a chance to correct past failures (from last week) and put away one of their biggest competitors. The last 4 series that the A's have participated in have ended in sweeps; let's just hope that if that trend continues, we spend Thursday evening talking about Oakland's 7-game winning streak.
The A's get back to it tomorrow evening in the opener of a 4-game set in Anaheim. Jarrod Parker faces Dan Haren in a re-match of Tuesday's game. Beat L.A.