If there were a Ten Commandments of Baseball, then one of them would be: Thou shalt always drive in the runner from 3rd with fewer than two outs. It's one of the fundamental things that good teams do and bad teams struggle with. You don't always need to mash homers to score runs; sometimes, it only takes a slow grounder to short or a routine fly ball to the outfield in a given situation.
Oakland stranded a combined 26 baserunners in the first two games of this series in Texas, but they managed to win both contests. That magic did not continue this afternoon, as they wasted chance after chance to cash in on gift-wrapped scoring opportunities. This was a game ripe for the taking, and Oakland left it on the table.
After the 1st inning, it didn't appear that this one would come down to a couple of missed opportunities. Jarrod Parker, who has settled down in May after a rough start to the season, was in full April form for the first four batters of the afternoon. Elvis Andrus singled sharply through the hole on the left side, David Murphy homered to the 2nd deck in right, Lance Berkman flew out, and Adrian Beltre hit a 600-foot homer to dead center. Panic! Send Parker to Sacramento! No, release him! He's terrible! Bring up Sonny Gray! Convert Cespedes to a starting pitcher!
Luckily, baseball games last longer than one inning. After serving up bombs to Murphy and Beltre on a pair of plump, juicy, elevated fastballs, Parker settled down and faced two batters over the minimum through the 7th inning. After giving up hits to three of the first four batters, he allowed only three hits and a walk the rest of the way and benefited from a couple of double plays. His final line: 7 innings, 3 runs, 6 hits, 1 walk, 5 strikeouts. That is a quality start, and it's a win more often than not. Parker pitched a good game.
Unfortunately, that particular quality start is only a win if the hitters contribute. The Rangers, who are missing Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis, and Alexi Ogando from their rotation, turned to a guy named R Wolf for a spot start. No, it wasn't Randy Wolf, but rather a relief pitcher named Ross Wolf who last appeared in the Majors in 2010 as a member of the Athletics. A logical person would assume that facing an unknown reliever for 5 innings would result in a smorgasbord of offense, but A's fans know better. No one gets baffled by unknown pitchers like the Oakland Athletics. Someone should really invent a device that can record a pitcher so that hitters can familiarize themselves with him before facing him for the first time. We can call it "videotape." Patent pending.
Cy Wolf wasted no time in embarrassing Oakland's lineup. He was perfect the first time through the order, retiring nine straight batters in the first three innings. Granted, Coco Crisp and Josh Donaldson each smashed the ball, but BABIP The Vengeful Baseball Deity placed both hits directly in Ranger gloves. Elvis Andrus also flashed some leather (which would be one of the themes of the day), ranging ridiculously far to his right to retire Cespedes on a ball that most shortstops couldn't have reached with a lacrosse stick.
The second time through the order went much better for the A's. Coco Crisp led off the 4th with a single, and Cespedes hit an absolute laser into the left field corner for a double. With runners on 2nd and 3rd, Brandon Moss executed the only piece of successful situational hitting that the A's would see all night, lofting a lazy fly ball to center for a sacrifice fly. The score was 3-1 Rangers, and neither team would score again for the rest of the day.
The next three innings were an exercise in absolute torture for A's fans. This game actually violated the 8th Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment, and I have filed a grievance with both the league and the Supreme Court. Wolf walked Seth Smith to lead off the 5th, and Derek Norris followed with a double down the right-field line. Oakland had runners on 2nd and 3rd with nobody out, and the upcoming batters (Eric Sogard and Adam Rosales) are fantastic at grounding out weakly. This seemed like at least one automatic run. Instead, both "hitters" swung at the first pitch and popped out. In fairness, Sogard's hit looked like it would fall in for a bloop single, but Andrus made a Willie-Mays-esque, diving, over-the-shoulder grab which violated all laws of physics. I tried rewinding the DVR to see if Andrus might drop it on the second attempt, but alas, he made the catch again. Well played, Elvis. With the first two outs in the books, Coco Crisp came up and grounded out to end the inning. Runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs, and Oakland couldn't score off of a 30-year-old reliever making his first career MLB start in a hitter's park. Sweet baby Jesus, that is pAthetic.
The A's threatened again in the 6th. John Jaso led off with a walk, and Super Andrus made an uncharacteristic error on a routine grounder by Cespedes to put two runners on with nobody out. That was enough to knock Wolf from the game, and Ron Washington turned to another former Oakland farmhand, Neal Cotts, to get out of the jam. If you don't remember Cotts, that's because he was drafted by Oakland in 2001 and eventually traded to the White Sox for Keith Foulke a year later. This was Cotts' second appearance for Texas this year; otherwise, he hasn't pitched in the Majors since Tommy John surgery ended his 2009 season. A marginal relief pitcher who has been out of the league for years? How did you know our weakness, Ron Washington? Cotts struck out Moss, Donaldson, and Smith on 12 pitches to end the rally. Bollocks.
If there were a Ten Commandments of Baseball, then this would be another one: Always take advantage of a leadoff walk. Well, it would probably be more like "Don't walketh the leadoff batter," but either way it was really annoying to see the A's squander those gifts in the 5th and 6th. Normally, I would quibble with Melvin's decision to leave in Smith to face a lefty in a crucial spot, but Smith is OPS'ing .943 this year in 42 PA's against southpaws, so I can understand sticking with the hot hand in this case. Would Nate Freiman have done better? Perhaps. But Smith has earned his at-bats, and I'm not going to make a big deal out of this one.
The A's gave it one more shot in the 7th. Derek Norris led off with a liner up the middle which bounced away from center fielder Leonys Martin for a "double" (since it's impossible for an outfielder to get an error). The next three batters went down quietly. The 8th and 9th passed by uneventfully, and that was all she wrote. The A's lost the game 3-1, but with a couple more productive outs they could have easily won this 4-3.
It should be noted that while Sogard and Rosales pretty much lost this game at the plate, they also contributed fantastically in the field. Everytime I looked up, it seemed like one of them was gobbling up a tough grounder or making a strong throw to 1st. The team may have scored more runs with the injured Jed Lowrie in the lineup, but they also may have given up many more. Defense counts too. Just ask Elvis Andrus, the $120M man with a career wRC+ of 85.
This was a bummer of a game, but the A's still won the series against the Rangers and have won five out of their last six contests. They now head to Houston in hopes of padding their win total, so long as they remember the Fourth Commandment of Baseball: If the game is on the line, hit a popup between Jimmy Paredes and any other fielder. Works every time.
The A's are off tomorrow, and will resume play on Friday in Houston. Tommy Milone will take on Eric Bedard, who was last seen by A's fans in mid-April giving up six runs in the 1st inning. Let me check...yeah, he still sucks. Game time is 5:10pm, and Baseballgirl will have your thread.