If you didn't watch tonight's A's game, then don't worry about it. You didn't miss much. It was only a 12-inning affair in which the A's clawed back from an early 3-run deficit while their bullpen tossed 5 dominant innings with Brandon Moss in left field because Coco Crisp and Yoenis Cespedes left with injuries culminating in Josh Donaldson lining an opposite-field walk-off homer which came not a moment too soon because reliever Chris Resop was the scheduled cleanup hitter. You know, same old.
In the end, the A's increased their winning streak to nine games, improved their AL-best record to 9-2, and maintained their Major League leads in runs, homers, and quality starts. Whether you believe in fate, luck, science, or the Force, you can't deny that tonight's game felt like one that the A's were destined to win. It was truly a game of inches tonight, and the important bounces all went Oakland's way. If you were looking for a sign that last year's magic was still present on this year's team, then you got it tonight. Let's dive right in.
Both starting pitchers were on their games tonight. Detroit's Max Scherzer struck out 11 Athletics in his 6 innings of work. Oakland didn't hit anything particularly hard off of him, and he used home plate umpire Paul Nauert's generous strike zone to his full advantage. On the other side, Bartolo Colon needed only 85 pitches to get through 7 innings.
Colon looked every bit as sharp as he did in his start against the Astros. He struck out five batters, didn't issue a walk, and moved his fastball all over the corners of the plate to great effect. The Tigers did hit a lot of balls hard off of him and finished with 8 hits to show for it, but Colon was able to get the big out when he needed it - with one glaring exception. After allowing a pair of 1-out singles in the 3rd, he retired Miguel Cabrera on a flyout and worked a 1-2 count on Prince Fielder. Colon was so close to getting out of the jam that he could taste it. However, just one strike away from escaping unscathed, he left a meatball up in the zone and Fielder blasted it to left-center field for a 3-run bomb. Here is a video of the showdown between Colon and Fielder.
For the second straight start, Colon had allowed a 3-run homer, and for the second straight start he settled right back down as if nothing had happened. He retired 12 of the next 15 batters he faced, including an inning-ending double play by Cabrera in the 5th. If you weren't sold on Colon after his first start, then hopefully you are now. He's the same guy he was last year: an innings eater who pounds the strike zone, forces his opponents to swing, and doesn't throw a lot of pitches regardless of the result. In this case, his ability to limit the damage after Fielder's homer gave Oakland time to chip away at Detroit's lead.
The A's didn't waste any time getting started on their comeback. Eric Sogard used all of his Elf Magic to manufacture a run in the bottom of the 3rd. He led off the inning by grounding the ball sharply down the right-field line past a diving Prince Fielder. I can't emphasize enough how awesome it is when Fielder dives for a ball. It's sort of like if Colon dove for a ball, except with a Tigers hat and cooler hair. In slo-mo, it looked like a hippo in a bellyflop contest. It was just beautiful, and Sogard made it happen. Once he had squeaked out his seeing-eye double, he tried to steal third. However, Scherzer caught him in the act and threw to third...or at least, in the general vicinity of third. Scherzer's throw sailed high and clanked off of Cabrera's glove, allowing Sogard to score on what should have been an easy TOOTBLAN. Elf Magic is powerful.
Oakland struck again in the 6th. Jed Lowrie lined a double down the left-field line, bringing Josh Reddick to the plate. Today was the day that Reddick was presented with his 2012 Gold Glove, so he was sort of the man of the hour. It was his return to the lineup after spraining his wrist in Houston, 8 members of his family were in the crowd, and all eyes were on him with a runner in scoring position and a pressing need for runs. His struggles last year with runners on base have been well-documented, but this time Reddick came through. He hit a grounder to the right side which managed to squeeze through the roughly 30-foot hole between Fielder and 2nd baseman Ramon Santiago, and 3rd base coach Mike Gallego waved Lowrie home. A good throw might have had him, but right fielder Don Kelly bounced a weak offering toward the plate and Lowrie scored easily. Gallego's aggressive decision proved to be particularly wise, because the next three hitters struck out on 11 total pitches.
Left-hander Drew Smyly came on in relief of Scherzer in the 7th inning. Josh Donaldson greeted him with a 1-out double to right, but Smyly retired pinch-hitter Andy Parrino for the 2nd out. Coco Crisp came up next and looped a little flare just inches over a leaping Jhonny Peralta, driving in Donaldson to tie the game. Comeback complete.
Three individual runs, and all of them came by the skin of Oakland's teeth. Sogard's run was straight-up lucky, and the RBI hits by Reddick and Coco were about as fortunate as hits can be. At this point, the game was starting to take on that magical feeling from 2012. The way that the A's scratched and clawed back into it, the way they refused to give up, you just got the feeling that they were going to pull this one out one way or the other.
The 8th inning, however, brought one of the weirdest calls that I've ever seen. With Brandon Moss at the plate, Yoenis Cespedes attempted to steal 2nd on an 0-2 pitch. Smyly buried the pitch in the dirt, and Moss swung and missed. However, with Detroit catcher Alex Avila lunging forward to smother the ball, Moss's bat inadvertently hit him in the head on the backswing. Avila was knocked to the ground, and umpire Nauert killed the play and sent Cespedes back to 1st. Everyone (myself included) was quite up in arms about it, claiming that Nauert must have blown the batter's interference call. Turns out he was right, though. Rule 6.06(c), third paragraph of the comments:
If a batter strikes at a ball and misses and swings so hard he carries the bat all the way around and, in the umpire's judgment, unintentionally hits the catcher or the ball in back of him on the backswing, it shall be called a strike only (not interference). The ball will be dead, however, and no runner shall advance on the play.
Nauert nailed it. Moss was out on strikes, but Cespedes wasn't out at 2nd because it wasn't interference at all. It was just a dead ball, and he was rightly sent back to 1st. My assumption is that this rule is in place so that a runner doesn't get to go wild while the opposing catcher lies there concussed after a taking a bat to the noggin. That wouldn't be very sporting.
Cespedes's subsequent steal attempt went even worse than the first one did. He was picked off by Smyly, and then, in his attempt to slide into 2nd, he took an awkward tumble and landed hard on both of his hands. He didn't get up for several minutes, but stayed in the game for the time being.
The rest of the game was a rollercoaster. After Colon's 7 innings, Oakland sent five relievers to the mound: Doolittle, Balfour, Cook, Blevins, and Resop. Balfour's inning started off with a rocket off the bat of Victor Martinez, but Reddick flashed his Gold Glove with a leaping catch at the wall to rob extra bases. Awesome! Then, Coco Crisp left the game with a strained left groin, which is a bad injury for a speedster to have. Crap! But Blevins induced a key double play after a leadoff single in the 11th. Sweet! Then, Cespedes left the game after all due to his hand, specifically his thumb. Bollocks!
With Coco and Cespy out of the game, BoMel had to get creative. Brandon Moss was already in left field, so DH Chris Young had to take over in center. The pitcher would be inserted into the lineup, batting cleanup, without any position players left on the bench to pinch-hit. It was actually a credit to Oakland's depth that, backed this far into a corner, they still had an excellent defensive outfield with Reddick, Young and Moss from right to left.
The top of the 12th brought the biggest sign that Oakland was meant to win this game. Ramon Santiago crushed a pitch from Blevins, and it looked like a homer off the bat. However, it hit the very corner of the jagged edge in left and bounced back onto the field. When I say that it hit the corner, I mean it was about 6 inches away from being a homer in two different directions. A few inches higher, and it would have cleared the yellow line on top of the out-of-town scoreboard. A few inches to the left, and it would have passed right by the jagged edge and over the shorter wall. Unbelievable. Santiago ended up on 3rd with a triple, and Chris Resop entered the game to record the final out of the inning and strand him there.
At this point, there was no doubt in my mind that Oakland was going to win. They had already harvested three runs from a sack of magic beans and come inches away from allowing a back-breaking homer to their opponents' #9 hitter. They had their 1st baseman playing left field, and Resop was listed as the current cleanup hitter with Tommy Milone as the most likely pinch-hitter, but they were still plugging along. The smell of pie was so thick that you could cut it with one of Blevins' pointy little elbows.
Chris Young led off the 12th against Brayan Villareal, and he struck out looking. Up strode Josh Donaldson, the self-proclaimed Bringer Of Rain. Donaldson took the first pitch, and then unloaded on the second one. His line drive sailed down the right-field line and just over the 330 sign for a walk-off solo homer.
It was Oakland's first walk-off victory of the season, and the first pie of Donaldson's career. The injuries are troubling, but X-rays on Cespedes's hand were negative and Coco is only considered day-to-day. On top of that, Shane Peterson and Michael Taylor are both mashing in Sacramento, including a combined 6-for-8 today with 7 RBI, so help is available if either player has to go on the DL.
This wasn't the prettiest victory for Oakland. The offense struggled against some powerful pitching, but they came up with clutch hits and the defense and pitching were spot on. Good teams grind out victories like this, and Oakland ground this one out because they're a good team. It should be noted that Detroit didn't use any of their top relievers tonight - Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit, and Al Albuquerque are all rested and available tomorrow - but tomorrow is tomorrow, and all that matters right now is that Oakland won tonight. The winning streak is at 9 games, the Rangers lost to the Mariners, and the Angels got shut out by the Astros to fall to 2-8 on the season. In honor of Oakland's current streak, I will leave you with the immortal words of the modern-day poet, John Lennon:
Number Nine. Number Nine. Number Nine. Number Nine.
Go get some sleep, Athletics Nation. If you're still too excited, counting pies usually works for me. We're coming right back here tomorrow afternoon to do it all again.
Oakland and Detroit continue their series tomorrow, and Justin Verlander faces Brett Anderson. Hmm...Verlander + Anderson = Verlanderson? My goodness, it's late. I'm getting a bit delirious; time for bed. Game time is 1:05pm, and baseballgirl will be your hostess with the mostess. Screw you squiggly red underline, "mostess" is totally a word.