Game #65: Cespedes superhero act falls short in 14th

Lisa Blumenfeld

What a throw.

As losses go, this one is pretty palatable. Yoenis Cespedes made the play of the year, Drew Pomeranz threw seven innings without allowing an earned run, and the bullpen combined for six scoreless innings. Sure, the offense took the night off, but until the A's no longer lead the league in runs scored, faulting the offense for losses seems like a pointless exercise.

To take it a step further, the A's had relatively little business being tied with the Angels as long as they were. Oakland outfielders threw two runners out at the plate, the A's committed two errors, and the Angels failed to capitalize on numerous chances. Anaheim had every opportunity to win this game in far less than nine innings; that it took 14 is more of an inconvenience than anything. In short: This was not a game Oakland was supposed to win.

Nothing much in this game happened until the bottom of the third, when Collin Cowgill got a Los Angeles rally started with a one-out single. Pomeranz walked Hank Conger to put two men on with one out, but recovered to strike out Howie Kendrick, a critical out with Mike Trout waiting on deck. Trout worked another walk, bringing up Alberto Pujols with the bases loaded. Pujols came uncomfortably close to giving his team a 4-0 lead but ended up making a very loud out, a deep fly ball that Craig Gentry was able to track down.

David Freese did something similar an inning later, after Josh Hamilton led off with a line-drive single to right field. Freese blasted a fastball right down the middle to the deepest part of the ballpark, sending Gentry scrambling once more toward the nook just to the right of dead center field. But Gentry got there, and Pomeranz kept the Angels off the board through the 5th.

The A's ran into trouble in the bottom of the 6th, though. Mike Trout led off with a walk, bringing up one of the game's double-play targets: Pujols. Pomeranz got the ground ball he needed, in a way — Pujols smoked a ball down the left-field line, but Donaldson made one of his now-trademark diving stops, preventing the ball from rocketing into the left-field corner. But his throw to Nick Punto at second bounced several feet short of the bag, and Trout arrived at second base just as Punto tried to handle the long hop. The ball squirted into right field, giving the Angels runners at second and third with none out instead of, potentially, none on with two out.

The last four games have been uncharacteristic of Donaldson, who has remained hitless and has yet to record a hit since the now-infamous tag play, and all that followed, involving himself and Manny Machado. The error was his fourth in two nights and his 13th of the season. It's always a bit ridiculous to decide that a talented player's struggles are at all psychological, but the timing of the Machado incident and his performance in the next several games is certainly suspect.

Hamilton, next up, wasted no time in capitalizing on Donaldson's error, lacing a line drive to right field. But oddly, after Trout rounded third to score, Pujols blew straight through a stop sign, allowing Kyle Blanks to let Moss' throw from right field reach Norris on several hops, still in plenty of time to nab Pujols at the plate. Donaldson did what he could to redeem himself, snagging a Freese Chopper on the short hop with a backhand, making a solid throw to Punto to second in barely enough time to complete the double play.

After another scoreless frame from Pomeranz, the A's finally got him off the hook for the loss in the top of the 8th. Nick Punto led off with a two-strike double down the left-field line that rattled around in the corner long enough for him to take the extra base, and he quickly advanced to third on Stephen Vogt's groundout. Lowrie hit a solid fly ball to right field, and voilá, a textbook small-ball run, and a tie ballgame.

Pomeranz, by the way, put up yet another remarkable start, allowing a run only as a result of the Donaldson error tonight over the course of seven innings. His ERA is 1.90, and while this is hardly the prevailing opinion, one could argue that he's made himself worthy of All-Star recognition. Given the roles that name recognition and win-loss record play in Summer Classic selection, it's hardly a real possibility, but it's worth the mention. Drew Pomeranz is, in all likelihood, the best story of the year on a team that seems to have had several remarkable ones in each of these three remarkable seasons.

Now, let's talk about Yoenis Cespedes. Specifically, Yoenis Cespedes when he goes into full-on superhero mode. He did that tonight. There was one out, Howie Kendrick was on first base after being walked by Luke Gregerson, and Mike Trout was at the plate. Words do not do it justice.

This man is not human. On a line. Over 300 feet. Saving what would have been the winning run. Oh, and make sure to note a phenomenal deke from Derek Norris, who gave Kendrick almost zero indication that a Cuban missile of a throw was inbound until the instant before impact. Do you remember ever seeing the "Yoenis Cespedes: The Showcase" video on YouTube, and wondering how some of those inhuman feats of strength he displayed could be practically translated to the baseball field? He's given us plenty of examples, but this might be the best one yet.

Cespedes tried his best to continue the superhuman act in Oakland's half of the 9th. He led the frame off with a single, advanced to second on a half-sacrifice bunt from Norris, and stole third base. Moss and Jaso couldn't bring him home, though, and the A's squandered either team's best chance to score until the bottom of the 11th.

Albert Pujols led that inning off against Dan Otero, and the A's employed a full-fledge righty shift against him. So naturally, Pujols bounced a lazy chopper to the right of the mound, a play that's routine for a second baseman in a normal configuration but very difficult for Punto, who'd essentially been playing shortstop. Punto tried to do a bit too much on that play, field the ball in short right field, spinning and throwing it into the Angels' dugout, putting pinch-runner Kole Calhoun in scoring position with none out.

Melvin had just been trying to leverage the righty-righty matchup with Otero and Pujols, but had quickly seen enough. He made the move to Sean Doolittle, who proceeded to do his thing. He got out of the 11th and pitched a scoreless 12th, too, allowing only one baserunner, a shallow fly ball to center that Crisp got a late jump on and couldn't handle.

Cue more offensive futility, all the way through the bottom of the 14th. But as is often the case in baseball, it takes only one pitch to change the outcome of a game. Tonight, Jeff Francis threw that pitch to Cowgill, who took him deep, clearing the left-field wall by a few feet. It's too bad Cespedes couldn't get to the wall in time, because given his circus act tonight, a walk-off robbery wouldn't have surprised anybody.

With the loss, the A's fall to 39-16, still 2.5 games ahead of the Halos in the AL West. And again, if anything, feeling disappointed about a 39-16 record is simply a testament to how unbelievably good this team is.

Oakland will try to avoid a sweep tomorrow, when Tommy Milone takes on Jered Weaver at 7:05pm.

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