First of all, it must be said: I can’t remember a series, even watching the A’s all last year, where a team was so consistently terrible at hitting with runners in scoring position. Well, unless you looked across the field, where the Angels seemed to struggle with the exact same disease. It became almost funny; in that ‘I’m watching a train wreck and I don’t know what else I can do but watch in horrified fascination’ sort of way.
When I predicted the 2-1 final score today, I actually didn’t think the game would end up that way, but this is the A’s/Angels. It’s becoming a law that these games will be close, and hard-fought. I agree with Blez: The East Coast rivals have nothing on this match-up. Fans really get their money’s worth, even in April, watching the AL West dogfight.
There’s just no other way to say it; our pitching was simply phenomenal today. Joe Blanton kicked it off with a line of 98 pitches, 5.1 innings, 1 ER, 2 BB, 2 K’s, pitching about as well as he can. I know some questioned the timing of Blanton's exit, but I will say that without a doubt, my number one complaint with Macha was his ‘closing the barn door after the cows are already out’ theory of starting pitching/bullpen management. I can’t count the number of times in the last few years when a starting pitcher was left in just long enough to put the A’s behind.
Geren, so far, is literally the opposite of this. The A’s in the sixth, clinging to a two run lead, found themselves in a situation with runners at second and third and no one out, and after Blanton got his biggest out of the night via his second ‘K’, he was yanked. And not a moment too soon. Embree, who is fast becoming a fan favorite, allowed only one run to score after a questionable call at third base, where Crosby fielded a ground ball deep in the hole, and made the only play he could. I can’t hang that play on Crosby, although he is making an easy target right now. Truth be told, I’m glad he didn’t rush the throw to first and put it in the dugout (again). But it was all Embree after that with the two huge strikeouts, stranding the tying run on third.
Speaking of ridiculously good pitching, good grief, Enrique Nomar Calero, there you are! Kiko absolutely shut down the top of the Angels’ order in the seventh in dramatic fashion; two strikeouts, and a Vlad popup. Duke followed that act with one of his own; and Street finished with the coup de grace. They’ve never looked better. As much as we hear about the Angels’ bullpen, we cannot ignore our own Embree/Calero/Duchscherer/Street combo. With two (possibly three) starting pitchers in our rotation that we will be happy to get five good innings out of, it is nice to know that if we happen to steal a lead early in the game, we have the possibility of taking it all the way to the win.
And steal we did today. Even as good as our 6-9 inning pitching combo is, today’s win required a good start by Blanton (check) and the necessary holds by Embree (check), Calero (check), Duchscherer (check), and a save by Street (check) to eek out the 2-1 win. The most amazing thing though, was that after the Angels scored their one run, there was not even another hint of drama from our bullpen. The pitching lines were ridiculous. Embree, Calero, and Street all struck out two of the three batters they faced, Duchscherer had one K, and none of the latter three allowed a base-runner.
On the offensive side of things, there is actually a lot to be hopeful about, even as frustrated as we all are with the lack of RISP-y hitting. Mike Piazza was absolutely ON FIRE in this series. With the notable exception of the blast off Rodriguez, the rest of his hits were singles/doubles, but there were an awful lot of them. Going 10 for 16 in a series will endear you to a new team in quick order. Travis Buck is still hanging in there, picking up another hit today in-between rookie strikeouts, Chavez and Kendall picked up a couple each as well, and even Crosby had a very un-Crosby-like (i.e. good) at-bat in the ninth.
April or not, this was a HUGE win. I’ll happily take the split of this series; it’s good to know we can still hang with the Angels, and call me crazy, but I’m really looking forward to the rest of the Angels/A’s matchups.
Tomorrow the A’s start their first homestand of the season, facing the Chicago White Sox at 7:05. We’ll see you right here on AN, for all the latest action.