Coming into today, the A's announced that it would Dan Straily starting in place of Jarrod Parker, and returning early from AAA after the A's brief flirtation with a four-man rotation. With Parker's hamstring status in doubt, and Sonny Gray throwing lights out in Sacramento (and having been selected to start the AAA All-Star Game in Reno), Straily pitched like today meant something for him. Undeterred by the A's garish white ‘Murica hats, Straily shoved it. Overall, he went 7 innings, allowing only 1 hit, striking out 6 and walking 3 on only 87 pitches.
Straily set down the side in order in the first, and only allowed a walk in the 2nd to Anthony Rizzo before striking out Dioner Navarro and Brian Bogesevic. Straily had everything working today, as he elevated the fastball when necessary, threw the slider in the dirt, and kept the changeup there to keep the hitters honest. Straily would set down the side in order in the 3rd as well, but ran into trouble in the 4th. He walked Starlin Castro lead it off, who advanced to 2nd on Nate Schierholtz's fielder's choice. It really only happened like that with Castro running on the play, and Nate Freiman making the (smart) decision to just step on 1st. Soriano, however, momentarily took advantage of this, as he lined a soft single to LF that looked like a sure run for the Cubs. Enter Yoenis Cespedes. Despite his struggles at the plate recently, Cespedes has generally been an excellent fielder this year, well above-average by UZR. Even last night, it seemed like Cespedes dealt more with bad hops and some strange spins than simply misplaying balls. Fast-forward to today, and Cespedes more than made up for it. With Castro not running very hard, Cespedes fired a one-hop strike to Derek Norris, who pushed Castro off the plate and tagged him to keep the score 0-0 going to the home half of the 4th.
Straily was untouched after that, allowing only a walk to Luis Valbuena until his exit after the 7th. It was a questionable hook in my opinion, as Straily looked strong and had another 20-25 pitches in him. Nevertheless, it would be a bullpen game from this point forward, as Travis Wood was also pulled after the A's could do nothing against him through 6 innings, managing only one runner to third until the 6th, when a two-out single by Josh Donaldson sent Jed Lowrie to third, only to be stranded there by Cespedes.
The only run of the game would score in the 7th. With one out, Chris Young would single himself aboard, and waited until the count got to 2-1 on Derek Norris to run. Cubs reliever Matt Guerrier threw an inside fastball to Norris, but it was a perfect pitch for Castillo to throw on, and he nailed Young by plenty. With two outs, Norris would walk, and Seth Smith would shoot a ball to right, sending Norris to 3rd. Briefly, it looked like Young had ran himself away from a run when it was clear they were at a premium in this game. Never fear, though, as the A's used some elf magic to score. With Eric Sogard at bat, Guerrier uncorked an offspeed pitch down and away that Sogard swung at, but also got away from Castillo. Norris chugged home on a feet-first slide, and made it 1-0 A's. The call was a passed ball -- a tough call on Castillo if you ask me -- but not the only bad call of the game.
After Straily's exit, the bullpen would be left to close it out. Ryan Cook came in for a perfect 8th, including a fast-reaction line-drive catch off the bat of Navarro. It literally knocked his hat off, but also prevented the leadoff man from reaching base. There was also an odd bottom of the inning courtesy of some quick-pitching from Pedro Strop.
Here it is in GIF form, in case you missed it:
Athletix Man found the appropriate rule, which is copied here:
Rule 8.01(b) Comment: With no runners on base, the pitcher is not required to come to a complete stop when using the Set Position. If, however, in the umpire's judgment, a pitcher delivers the ball in a deliberate effort to catch the batter off guard, this delivery shall be deemed a quick pitch, for which the penalty is a ball. See Rule 8.05(e) Comment.
So, the umpire actually made the correct call, but sucked at relaying that to the rest of us. This would actually happen again to Donaldson, the next batter, but the play was allowed to proceed. Go figure.
In the 9th, it became hairy again courtesy of umpires. After Balfour got two outs, Castro smoked a single to right-center and was the tying run for Schierholtz. Balfour got the groundball he wanted from him, but Jed Lowrie's relatively lazy throw sailed high. Brandon Moss, who had come in to pinch-hit for Nate Freiman in the 7th and stayed in for defense, picked the high throw, and replays showed he clearly came down with the tag on Schierholtz before his foot touched the bag. This would bring Alfonso Soriano to the plate, a dangerous hitter in this situation. Despite the fourth out, Balfour would get him to fly out harmlessly to Young in right to end the game.
It was another interleague win for the A's, who seem to play something like .800 ball during these stretches. It also puts them momentarily at 50 wins and a full game above Texas, who play the Mariners again tonight. Whatever you do tonight, whether it is watch baseball, watch fireworks, hang out with family, or all three, everyone at AN wishes you a safe and happy fourth. Don't do anything we wouldn't do.