In today's Blue Jays series preview, I included a poll asking which hitter Athletics Nation feared the most. The options were Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Melky Cabrera, and Steve Tolleson. Clearly, one of those names doesn't belong. I included Tolleson as a joke, because he is a backup middle infielder who used to play for the A's. Earlier in the season, Donnie Murphy, another backup middle infielder who used to play for the A's, collected multiple key hits against Oakland as a member of the Texas Rangers; therefore, perhaps Tolleson would do the same.
Wouldn't you know it, Tolleson came through. One day after backup middle infielder Sean Rodriguez hit the walk-off homer to defeat the A's in Tampa Bay, Tolleson swatted a two-run bomb off of Scott Kazmir as the Jays gutted out a 3-2 victory in the series opener. Between the heroics of a former Athletic and a random Australian pitcher, it felt like the Blue Jays beat the A's by grabbing their arm and making them hit themselves with their own fist. Random Australians are our thing, man. Aren't there any random Canadian players you can use?
Kazmir wasn't sharp to start the game, as he seemed to miss his spots quite a bit in the first few innings. In the second, with Encarnacion on first base, Tolleson smashed a lazy fastball deep into the left-field seats for a 2-0 lead. The Jays added on in the third. Kevin Pillar led off with a double, and then moved to third when Kazmir snapped a pickoff throw to nobody. Passing the rock to Coco Crisp in that situation would have been considered excellent ball movement in the NBA, but it proved to be a poor strategy on the baseball diamond. Jose Reyes knocked in Pillar with a groundout, and the A's were down 3-0 early.
While the Blue Jays were chipping away at Kazmir, Liam Hendriks was baffling the Athletics. He showed up to do two things today, eat some vegemite and throw some strikes, and he was all out of vegemite because I don't know if they sell that here. He breezed through three innings, stranding a hit and eliminating a walk on a Kyle Blanks double play. Brandon Moss got to him in the fourth with a monster shot to right to cut the lead to 3-1, and the A's loaded the bases in the fifth but came a few feet short of taking a lead when Jed Lowrie's drive died on the warning track. Hendriks wasn't amazing, but he was good, he was efficient, and he put his team in a position to win.
Aaron Loup came on in the sixth in relief of Hendriks, and the A's started a rally against him in the seventh. Derek Norris and Nick Punto led off with singles, but blankin' Blanks came in and bounced into another blankin' double play. Blankety blank. I'm gonna be honest, Blanks does not look good so far. A couple of big hits could probably change my mind, but so far I can see why he is described as passive at the plate. He reminds me of Chris Carter in his initial trials in Oakland. His nickname shall be Shootin' until he does something good. Shootin' Blanks.
Kazmir settled down and cruised through the next four innings, thanks in part to the arm of Yoenis Cespedes. Brett Lawrie led off the fourth with a hit toward the corner in left, and he took the turn for second. Cespedes got to the ball quickly and fired a strike to second base; Nick Punto made a great play diving to the bag to get Lawrie by a hair. I liked the aggressive move by Lawrie with his team in the lead, because it took a perfect throw and a perfect tag to get him. But man, just don't run on the A's outfield. Unless you hit it to center.
The A's scratched out a second run off of All-Star relievers Steve Delabar and Brett Cecil in the eighth. Delabar walked Lowrie to lead things off and then exited after recording one out. Moss looped a hit to center off of Cecil, but Cespedes fouled out on a nice running play by Encarnacion. (Note: Encarnacion may have been E-5 at third base, but he was slick at first tonight.) Alberto Callaspo came in to pinch-hit for Josh Reddick against the lefty Cecil, and he hit a little flare into left which dropped for an RBI single. Unfortunately, Norris followed with possibly the worst at-bat I've ever seen from him. He saw four pitches in the dirt and waved at three of them for a strikeout. He couldn't have hit those pitches if he'd chopped down an oak tree and used it for a bat. It even looks ugly in print, from MLB Gameday:
|1||Swinging Strike (Blocked)||85||Curveball||90||8.7"||1"|
|2||Swinging Strike (Blocked)||87||Cutter||45||9.7"||3"|
|3||Ball In Dirt||87||Cutter||45||9.6"||3"|
|4||Swinging Strike (Blocked)||85||Curveball||47||11.1"||7"|
Jim Johnson pitched a clean eighth, for the most part. Jose Reyes reached base, stole second without a throw, and moved to third on a groundout, but he was stranded. It came down to the ninth.
The A's have not been intimidated by top closers this year, and Casey Janssen presented the latest challenge. He quickly retired Punto and absolutely carved up Blanks for a strikeout. Coco shot a double into the left-field corner, and then he nearly won the game with his legs. He broke for third on a 2-1 pitch to Lowrie, and for some reason catcher Erik Kratz decided to make a play despite having zero chance to get the out. He airmailed the throw to third, but the Human Nervous Twitch, Brett Lawrie, made a leaping catch to save the day. If that throw is a little higher, Coco trots home and the game is tied. I have a theory that Lawrie didn't even realize what was going on, and that he was just jumping up and down and waving his arms because he was excited and it felt good and the ball just found his mitt. Either way, crisis was averted in Toronto. A couple pitches later, Lowrie grounded out to end the game.
Welp, you can't win 'em all. The A's just weren't sharp enough to beat another quality team today. Kazmir took too long to hit his groove, the lineup failed to get the big hit when it mattered despite several opportunities, and the A's just got out-played. There was no particularly boneheaded, game-ruining mistake today, just a team effort that didn't quite get the job done. Considering the hot streak they've been on lately, they were bound to fall flat eventually, and it's nice to see that they were once again fighting down to the last out with a chance to win. Keep doing that every day, and good things will continue to happen.
Shake this one off, enjoy your Friday night, and come back tomorrow at 10:07 a.m. for the next one. Jesse Chavez will face 2012 NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, and Jeremy will have your thread.