Well, as you no doubt have realized lately, the topic du jour on Athletics Nation has been the roster fight for the 25th man slot with the imminent return of Craig Gentry. The candidates for the odd man out have ranged from Sam Fuld to Daric Barton to Josh Reddick (who seriously did not help his cause any today, even though realistically; he's the last player I'd send down out of that group). The good news is that in the ninth inning today, this problem was solved. I'm not sure the A's have ever released $10 million dollars, but it was probably as close as you will ever get to a unanimous decision in the heat of the moment here on AN. To say that Jim Johnson has struggled mightily to start the season is really the understatement of the year; had the A's lost today's game--and they came within a whisker of doing so--he would have earned his third loss of the year for the A's; and he's only pitched in four 9th innings.
But Bob Melvin, in somewhat of a gutsy, bold decision (and really the only choice he had in order to stop Johnson from being permanently boo'd the rest of the entire season), pulled Johnson just a fraction before the game was heading over a cliff to the loss, and Dan Otero, even while earning the most fake, most meaningless statistic ever; the blown save--which went to the good pitcher, while a hold went to the bad, played the role of A's hero today in his nearly three innings of work, which took the A's from a imminent loss in the ninth, to extra innings and all the way to the win in the 11th. Melvin trusted no one else.
Not to be pedantic, but c'mon. If you want what is wrong with baseball statistics summed up in one box score, check out the (BS) behind Otero and the (H) behind Johnson. I can think of two other letters that would neatly summarize Johnson's performance today, but I've sufficiently derailed this recap enough. What you need to know is that the A's put four runs on the board before the Twins' pitcher, Phil Hughes, recorded a single out, and they quite literally failed to do anything else until the 11th inning, when Derek Norris, who for some reasons is not in the lineup every day, hit the game-winning three-run home run after the Twins scored enough runs in the ninth to send the game to extras in the first place. With me so far?
This game started out in the sweetest, most fun, most I-love-baseball, bluebirds, whiskers on kittens, fashion imaginable, with no hint of the horror show to come. Seriously, these kind of games should come with a warning at work. Sam Fuld, playing for Coco Crisp, led off the game with a walk; rainbows, and cotton candy ensued as Jed Lowrie also walked, and Donaldson, who is loving the tops of walls lately; doubled in Fuld for the A's first run. Moss' 11-pitch at-bat; one of the best at-bats in the young season, ended in a 2-run single, and the A's had a 3-0 lead. Yoenis Cespedes doubled Moss to third, and Alberto Callaspo singed him in for the A's fourth run, and a 4-0 lead. The A's would leave Cespedes at third as Jaso struck out, and Reddick hit into a double-play, but with the A's hitting so well, and Hughes pitching so terribly, they would never miss that run, right? Puppies and tiny baby ducks were dancing on the A's dugout as Jesse Chavez closed his half of the first with 15 pitches to Hughes' 44-pitch inning.
And then the happy train left the station and took a weird turn. After such a promising start, the A's offense ran away and hid. Believe it or not, Phil Hughes would complete five innings, and after his nightmare first inning, would give up only a double to Donaldson the rest of the way, as he would (SPOILER ALERT) not even earn the loss. Yes, the A's should have added on in the first. Yes, it wouldn't have killed them to score a run during the next 30 outs. But that's neither here nor there. The point of baseball is to hold the lead through nine innings, and the A's had the lead with their closer on the mound. With an insurance run, I might add, and the fact that Jesse Chavez lost his win, and this game went extras, is no one's fault but Jim Johnson's.
I'd like to take a moment to highlight the game by Jesse Chavez--replacement starting pitcher extraordinaire. He pitched seven extraordinary innings, allowing just six hits, one earned run, while striking out nine, likely his career high. But of course, the most impressive thing in his outing was that he walked no one. You know what's so awesome about that, after being handed a 4-0 lead before you take the mound? When you don't walk anyone, you can afford to give up a crushed solo home run, and it's the only run you give up all day. Kubel got to Chavez in the bottom of the second inning; that was the only blemish on the day, and damn if he didn't deserve this win.
And he's not the only one:
A's starters have allowed 3 runs or fewer in each of the first 8 games, which is their longest such season-opening streak since 1990 (10)— Mike Selleck (@MikeSelleck) April 9, 2014
This game was full of (useless to the A's, anyway) replay calls; the second inning foreshadowed this as the dreaded "transfer" rule came into play on a strike-out foul-tip as Suzuki appeared to drop a third strike on Lowrie in the transfer throwing it back to the pitcher. I'm going on record with how much I hate this. I root against the Angels at all times, and actively find ways to root against them on every play, but this is a catch, it should always be a catch, and I cannot BELIEVE this wasn't called a catch. This is a potential game-ruin-er, much like the new home plate rules, if they don't rein it in.
Right. Back to the amazing game today. Chavez' only jam of the game (in the sixth inning) came to an abrupt halt as the Twins made the first of their two inexplicable decisions; the other likely costing them this game. Plouffe hit a one-out single off Chavez, and with two outs, tried to run first-to-third on a center field single and was thrown out by SAM FULD! You read that right; Plouffe made the third out at third base. Down 3 runs. With the tying run coming up. I...don't even know. But SAM FULD!
No one will remember this part of the game, but Sean Doolittle struggled a bit in the eighth, replacing Chavez, and was hit hard. He gave up a home run and a single; fortunately in that order, and got out of the inning with the A's still living off their first inning runs, holding the now 4-2 lead.
The A's found a baserunner in the ninth inning, as Callaspo walked, but Reddick struck out to end the inning. It must be said; Callaspo has some really great at-bats, and went 2-4 on the day. Reddick did not. He pulled an 0-5 with four strikeouts, earning him a golden sombrero to take home as a souvenir of his trip to Minnesota. Small sample size and all that, but when everything is magnified and a decision is needed, you have Callaspo, Fuld, and Barton with positive impacts on today's game, and Reddick decidedly not.
But again, the only part of the game people will remember is from the ninth inning on. Jim Johnson replaced Luke Gregerson, who pitched a scoreless eighth. Let me set the scene: It's the bottom of the ninth inning. The A's hold a comfortable 4-2 lead. Johnson starts the inning; no one on base, and has an insurance run with which to work. He allows a lead-off single. Expected. He walks the second batter. Yes, his ball has movement. Still, I can't even begin to count the ways how inexcusable walks are for closers. But then the Twins gave the A's the best gift ever. On the first pitch of the at-bat, off a struggling closer who has just walked a batter, DOWN TWO RUNS, Chris Herrmann bunted. And popped it up. Knowing what I know now, and if Johnson really wanted to get out of the inning without having to throw more (bad) pitches, he probably should have let it drop and took the chance at a double (or even triple!) play. But I'm always on the side of making the safe play when heroics are not immediately necessary, so I applaud him catching the ball. Silver lining. Johnson recorded an out. Also, that would be the only out he would get.. He walked the bases loaded with one out (UNACCEPTABLE!) and promptly allowed a soft single hit to Cespedes. The run scored for the Twins, making it 4-3, and Cespedes nearly threw the runner out at third, but even after replay, the runner was still called safe (Breaking News: A's lose another replay call). With one out, and runners at second and third, Dan Otero was called in to replace Jim Johnson, and to save or extend the game. In play, miracle(s), indeed.
Otero got the second out of the inning on a short fly ball to Josh Reddick, who nearly threw the runner out at home trying to score on the sac fly, but once again, Breaking News: A's lose challenge, and just like that, the game was tied at 4, and Chavez' win was gone for good. It looked for all the world like the game was gone too, but Otero intentionally walked Mauer, and got Plouffe to ground out to third to send the game to extra innings; somewhere I didn't see this game going either at the beginning or the end, for completely different reasons. I'll spare you any further details, including a bench-clearning scuffle as Josh Donaldson got into a shouting match with the Twins' pitcher, but all you need to know is that Otero cleared the tenth inning, and in the eleventh, Derek Norris (who didn't start the game) came up for his second at-bat after a clutch Daric Barton walk, and a Callaspo single put two runners on.
Naturally, he hit the ball out, for a huge, gigantic 3-run home-run that put a stamp on this tweet:
8 of Norris' 18 career homers have either tied the game or given the A's the lead.— Jane Lee (@JaneMLB) April 9, 2014
Seriously, start Derek Norris. At catcher. As DH. As first base. I honestly don't care. But he's better than some of the options that the A's have thrown out there, and I'd like to see more of his bat in the lineup.
I'll pretend the bottom of the 11th was boring; that the Twins didn't bring the tying--and winning--runs to the plate after singles, walks, and a weird lost-in-the-sun fly ball that Cespedes dropped loaded the bases, but when all was said and done, Dan Otero and Derek Norris saved the day for the A's, and it's just another Oakland A's victory.
If you need more happiness, check out our Double-A Billy Burns.
We're doing this ALL AGAIN tomorrow as the A's go for the sweep; game time 10:10AM. Same time, same place. Hopefully, same outcome, although I wouldn't mind if it was just a little less dramatic.